Saving Orangutans and Rainforests

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Two weeks ago, I saw this photo of a mother orangutan and her baby that have been killed for palm. It broke my heart. I knew I had to say something. 

But first, a little background on these creatures and why they are important to us.

Orangutans are tree-dwelling creatures – the largest of such kind. They are also the most intelligent among all primates. Scientists say they possess the closest intelligence to us, humans.

They play a great role in dispersing seeds in rainforests – rainforests that we travelers also enjoy hiking and experiencing. The dispersal benefits an entire ecosystem, including plants and animals like rhinos, tigers, and elephants. If orangutans become extinct, there is also a great possibility that these creatures can also become extinct.

Orangutans came before us, along with other wild animals and the rainforests they help sustain. We are the invaders. We are the ones who should adapt.

But this is not the case today.

Orangutans live in Indonesia and Borneo’s palm trees, and the photos below show how locals manage to shoo them away from their homes. They are displaced, and if they stay, they are burned alive. If they escape from deforested palm oil plantations and end up in villages, they will also get killed by locals, who see them as farm pests.

photo from
photo from:

Every year, around 1,000 to 5,000 orangutans are killed for palm oil, mainly in Sumatra and Borneo. They are native to these two locations, and they are critically endangered in both too. It is estimated that at the rate at which orangutans are killed, they will be extinct in 25 years. Not only that, tropical forests in the same areas are also being deforested and converted to palm plantations.

Palm oil is among the most coveted oils in the world. In fact, around 50 percent of packed consumer goods in the market today contain palm oil. International consumer brands such as Unilever, Lancome, Procter and Gamble, Lay’s, L’oreal, Hugo Boss, Ferrero, Avon, Nestle, and Kraft use it to create everyday household commodities including detergent, shampoos, lotions, lipsticks, cereals, instant noodles, cookies, and spreads like Nutella and peanut butter.

Saving Orangutans and RainforestsHere in the Philippines, perhaps the most ubiquitous pantry good that contains palm oil is cooking oil. In fact, in our province, I found only one brand that uses pure coconut oil. Everything else on the shelves contains palm oil or its derivatives.

On cooking oil labels, palm oil may read as:

  • Vegetable oil
  • Palm olein
  • Palmitate (vitamin A or asorbyl palmitate)
  • Palmate
  • Palm kernel oil (PKO)
  • Partially hydrogenated palm oil (PHPKO)
  • Palm kernel stearin (PKs); Palm kernel olein (PKOo)
  • Fractionated Palm Oil (FP(K)O)
  • Organic Palm Kernel Oil (OPKO)

Other products like toiletries and food that contain palm oil contain any of these ingredients:

  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate (may come from coconut)
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphates (may come from from ricinus oil)
  • Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Stearic Acid
  • Chemicals which contain palm oil
  • Steareth -2
  • Steareth -20
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
  • Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (coconut and/or palm)
  • Hydrated palm glycerides
  • Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye (from vegetable stearic acid)
  • Cetyl palmitate and octyl palmitate (ingredients with palmitate at the end are OFTEN derived from palm oil)

Despite being a Biology major, I never learned about the consequences of using palm oil until about a year ago. Since then, I have tried cutting down on instant noodles. I have also made the switch to coconut oil. I can tell you the change is not easy, especially in a country where coconut oil sells higher because of less demand; where there are only two or so brands that create coconut oil – and your suking sari-sari store doesn’t sell it either – while there are 34 brands that make palm oil.

But we must try.

The products we choose to consume affect an entire ecosystem. When an ecosystem is altered, not only are plant and animal species in danger of extinction, but it can also mean ours. Rainforests play an important role in preventing global warming, whose effects are now apparent. Greater deforestation and fewer trees mean that more carbon dioxide is in the air. Carbon dioxide emissions are the major cause of global warming. It’s a domino effect. 

I am not saying that we should totally eliminate palm oil from our diet and our cabinets. We can minimize the use of such. Start with the things in our pantry, like palm-made cooking oil. Or Nutella. A simple change in the way we consume our daily oil can create a lasting impact on our rainforests. We must try to save our rainforests and orangutans to teach ourselves, our children that nature is valuable; that if we don’t try to preserve valuable things, we will end up losing them. By then, it might be too late.

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