Is There Finally Some Hope for Devastated Orangutans?

Palm oil is challenging to avoid; it’s found in half of the products that we consume, from a bag of chips to a tube of lipstick. But you know who can’t escape palm oil’s destruction? The orangutan. So the news that a palm oil-free alternative is in the works could finally be good news for “The Man of the Forest.”

Her Body Was Covered in Shotgun Pellets

Orangutans might be nicknamed the “The Man of the Forest,” but many unsustainable palm oil producers don’t show them an ounce of compassion. In December 2014, The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation shared the heartbreaking story of one female orangutan as a prime example of the war we’re waging on orangutans, all for palm oil. The veterinary team was in for a challenge–as you can see, she was severely wounded:

  • Her right leg was broken at her thigh.
  • Her left arm was decomposing so badly that it had to be amputated. It was also broken and filled with open wounds.
  • Her body was covered with shotgun pellets: 10 in her head, 8 in her left leg and pelvis, 18 in her right leg and pelvis, and 6 in her right arm and chest.
  • She was thin and malnourished.

It looks like she held on for three days with her injuries, probably all alone as orangutans are the most solitary of the great apes. But it was too late, and she died shortly after her surgeries.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation

Image Credit: The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation

This isn’t an isolated story. One Green Planet outlines some of the serious devastation:

  • An estimated 300 hectares of forest is destroyed every hour to make room for palm oil production.
  • Orangutans have lost 90 percent of their natural habitat.
  • In the past twenty years of intensive palm oil production, 50,000 orangutan lives have been lost.
  • Indonesia’s rampant deforestation is responsible for one-third of all carbon emissions.
  • There are less than 7,000 wild orangutans left in Sumatra.
  • At this rate, orangutans will not be in the wild in the next 30 years.

Unfortunately, orangutans aren’t the only great apes suffering. Palm oil production has expanded to Central Africa, and the industry is further threatening Africa’s chimpanzees and gorillas, reports The Ecologist. Estimates say that “3,000 hectares of rainforest bordering the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon’s Southern region have been destroyed,” even though the reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Can Yeast Save the Orangutan?

As reported in The Guardian, palm oil is still a popular ingredient for its functionality. So far, palm oil has been unmatched in two distinctive ways: 1) it has an incredibly high melting point and 2) it has very high saturation levels.

Other oils can have one of the distinctive properties, but no other oil has both–until now, maybe. Researchers at the University of Bath think that yeast (Metschnikowia pulcherrima) might be able to do both.

And yeast has another unique selling point (USP): it can grow just about anywhere, including some tree leaves, fruits and flowers, and in various temperatures and pH levels. Strains have cropped up in parts of Europe, Vietnam and South Africa, so there would be no reason to solely use the orangutan’s home, Borneo and Sumatra. You can most likely put to rest those food security and deforestation fears ,too, because Dr Chris Chuck, a research fellow and co-leader of the project, explains that “the land use requirement for commercial yeast production could be 10 or even 100 times less than palm oil.”

But we have to think practically, too: can yeast compete with palm oil in terms of dollars and cents? Right now, that looks like a no. By looking at the current market value of palm oil, Dr. Chuck describes that the yeast process will have to fall between $800-$900 per tonne to compete. The lowest estimate that researchers have now is $1,200 per tonne.

The researchers remain optimistic, though. They plan to ramp-up their efforts to make the commercialization of yeast a real possibility in three or four years.

The Orangutan Can’t Wait

Does an orangutan (chimpanzee, or gorilla) life have a price tag? I don’t think so. Orangutans may look quirky and sweet, but they also play a vital role as natural conservationists and forest regenerators. We need to help them now.

If completely eliminating palm oil isn’t an option for you, then you can look for sustainable palm oil. The World Wildlife Fund recommends buying Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified products, and encouraging your favorite companies to get certified.

Source: Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

Image credit: Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

The Sumatran Orangutan Society also has more tips and resources on how to raise awareness.

Photo Credit: Twak


Mark Donners
Mark Donner2 years ago

Indonesians are Asians. hate to sound racist, but that explains everything. Asians are the most psychopathic people on Earth.

Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

Sick bastards! People: you have the power! Do not buy products having palm oil, there is a list and there are other options

Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Signed. Thank you

Angela K.
Angela K3 years ago

Petition signed & shared

Manuela C.
Manuela C3 years ago

Hope it helps.

Rene McEvoy
Rene McEvoy3 years ago

We should boycott anything that comes from Indonesia, until their government stops it! It is time that Governments take accountability!

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B3 years ago

So wrong. More needs to be done to raise awareness of palm oli to the general public. Sadly, it is also going to be very difficult to stop countries and people in Asia using and buying it.

Mademoisell LeBel
Melanie LeBel3 years ago