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Orangutans illegally killed in the past decade: 20,000–Prosecutions: 0

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Dead orangutan being carried off of a palm oil plantationMore than 20,000 orangutans have been poached, killed by loggers or sold into the illegal pet trade in the past 10 years, according to a new report (pdf) from Nature Alert, Ltd., in Bath, England, and the Jakarta, Indonesia–based Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) that says not a single person in Indonesia has been prosecuted for these lucrative crimes.

The population of the endangered Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is currently estimated at fewer than 50,000 by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species—half what it was 60 years ago. The Bornean orangutan’s cousin, the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii), has an estimated population of just 7,300 animals—an 80 percent decline in the past 75 years.

International trade in orangutans is forbidden under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and orangutans are protected in Indonesia, where it is illegal to kill, capture, transport or even injure one of the rare apes.

And yet, the killings continue. “The problem is, the law is never enforced, largely because the Ministry of Forestry has never shown any interest in serious wildlife or habitat protection,” says Sean Whyte, director of Nature Alert.

As to why so many orangutans have been killed, it basically boils down to one word: greed. It’s not the orangutans themselves that have commercial value. Rather, it’s the land that they live on, which is being burned down to make room for massive (and often illegal) palm oil plantations. Palm oil is a common ingredient in many processed foods. Around 90 percent of the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia.

“Indonesia’s forests are being destroyed at a rate equivalent to six football fields a minute,” says Richard Zimmerman, director of Orangutan Outreach in New York City, which helps to raise funds for the COP and helped to fund the new report. “When you fly over Borneo today, all you see is mile after mile of oil palm plantations where only a few years ago you would have seen pristine tropical rainforest. The forest is simply gone. And every creature living in it has been slaughtered.”

When forests are cleared, adult orangutans are often shot and killed, but not before they are otherwise mistreated. “These peaceful, sentient beings are beaten, burned, mutilated, tortured and often eaten. Babies are torn off their dying mothers so they can be sold on the black market as illegal pets to wealthy families who see them as status symbols of their own power and prestige. This has been documented time and again,” Zimmerman says.

The palm oil plantations are “miles and miles long,” he says. To make matters worse, “it’s a monocrop that destroys the soil. When satellite imagery is taken of the region, you see scorched earth where the forests have been destroyed.”

Hardi Baktiantoro, director of the COP, puts that into context, with the following prepared statement: “The palm oil industry must be one of the worst, maybe even the worst, environmentally damaging industries in the world.”

Nature Alert and the COP are calling on the government of Indonesia to start enforcing its existing laws and to stop issuing new permits for logging or palm oil plantations in area where orangutans live.

Until Indonesia takes action, all three groups say that people around the world can help by not buying products that contain palm oil, and to ask their retailers not to sell those products. “Consumers have real power, if only they will use it,” Whyte says. “In the U.S. especially, we need lots more people to start questioning their retailers. In Europe it has been successful and this past week in New Zealand, Cadbury’s have promised to remove palm oil from their chocolate.”

“Awareness is first and foremost, especially in this country,” Zimmerman says. “So many people have no idea what palm oil is, where it comes from, or why it’s a problem.”
Image: Dead orangutan being carried off of a palm oil plantation, courtesy of the Center for Orangutan Protection

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  1. 1. jazz1029 8:06 pm 08/25/2009

    This is one of the most disturbing articles I’ve read and inspires me to take action for these innocent creatures. As stated, it is the pure greed of these disgusting farmers combined with the ignorance of not knowing where they came from themselves.

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  2. 2. hghb 10:41 pm 08/25/2009

    Do your part and stop the consumption of palm oil.

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  3. 3. redapes 10:52 pm 08/25/2009

    Orangutans are critically endangered in the wild because of rapid deforestation and the expansion of palm oil plantations.

    If nothing is done to protect these majestic creatures, they could be extinct in just a few years.

    Visit the Orangutan Outreach website to learn how YOU can make a difference!
    Reach out and save the orangutans!
    Say ‘NO’ to palm oil.

    Link to this
  4. 4. greeney 1:01 pm 08/26/2009

    This is heartbreaking, and a situation far worse than I would have thought. What are all the world wildlife conservation groups doing about this?

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  5. 5. Nan 4:09 pm 08/27/2009

    Retribution will come when all the people who continue to eat this fattening, cholestersol raising oil, die off too! Unfortunately, that will be after the demise of all these gentle creatures. Don’t by the oil or the wood, and help spread the word. before it’s too late!

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  6. 6. Grasshopper1 5:44 pm 08/27/2009

    Why can’t people realize that orangutans are our relatives? It’s amazing how cruel people can be to the rest of nature.

    Everyone who sees this page: STOP EATING PALM OIL!!!!!!

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  7. 7. blueone 2:49 pm 08/31/2009

    This is horrific. However, no one ever mentions that biofuel, a burgeoning industry, not only uses palm oil as an ingredient for fuel, but also contributes
    to the decimation of the land, as surely as the food industry does. Why is this never brought to light?

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  8. 8. erici 8:18 pm 09/8/2009

    That is horrible, especially since orangutans are one of our closest relatives. That’s like killing your brother. I can stop eating most palm oil things, though some chemicals in food are made using palm oil and you never see the ingredients for the ingredients listed.

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