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  • Writer's pictureRyan Kane

Orangutans Feeling the Heat

Although there may be numerous factors pushing the Palm Oil industry focused revolt, it is without question that orangutans are truly a catalyzing force behind this revolution. Orangutans have taken center stage in our advertisements, claimed the headlines of heart wrenching stories, and reached the height of the endangered species publicity pyramid; all together creating a driving impetus for the public to call out the evils behind industrial palm oil production.

As fires continue to burn each day in Sumatra and Borneo, orangutans are feeling the (literal) heat from palm oil producers engulfing acres upon acres of pristine forests: home to these great apes. Once numbering in 230,000, today we can see their population (112,200) dropping just like the many trees once covering these parts of Indonesia and Malaysia. Unfortunately, this number makes sense. Where are these hominids supposed to live when they have no food and no shelter in these alien environments known as palm oil plantations? The only option for survival lies in venturing into nearby villages to scavenge for food. Often times mothers are killed by villagers, orphaned baby orangutans who later become pets or slaves; whereas male orangutans are either killed or enslaved and become roadside attractions. This thankfully has been widely documented by reports, making a strong ethical case against palm oil.

We can also see the medical effects of these forest clearings in lab samples from environmental scientists. Erin Vogel, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, tested thousands of wild orangutan urine samples to conclude a popular controversy between orangutan researchers and the palm oil industry: whether palm oil plantations affected orangutan diets. From her study, she found significantly higher levels of ketone in the urine of orangutans affected by forest clearings. This suggests that “their bodies are experiencing low glucose intake and hence having to burn fat,” due to the low availability of fruit in plantations. Other orangutans who found refuge in untouched forests showed “10 times more aggression” than before the fires with others of their species as a result of overcrowding. Vogel, asserted that palm oil has in fact made orangutans “energetically stressed” as a direct result of an altered habitat.

With the efforts of reporters and scientists and documenting and publicizing the truth behind the industrial palm oil industry and its effects on wild orangutan populations, they have been able to bring this issue to the face of the problem and solution… us. It is up to the public to decide whether they can choose between the fate of a species sharing 97% of their DNA or the palm oil filled treats lining our grocery store shelves.

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