Palm Oil Plantations are One of The Major Reasons Orangutan Populations are Struggling to Survive

It isn’t surprising then that the estimated orangutan population is now 8% of what it was 100 years ago.

Image: By Achmad Rabin Taim from Jakarta, Indonesia (P3260481) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Caroline Dunn
MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Ecotourism, @Caroline005

An area of rainforest the size of three football pitches is cleared every minute every day! How can any species adapt to such rapid destruction? The answer is, most can’t. The main threat facing orangutan populations today is habitat destruction from illegal logging, mining, agriculture, palm oil and acacia plantations (paper and pulp). It isn’t surprising then that the estimated orangutan population is now 8% of what it was 100 years ago.

In order to clear land for plantations, rainforests are often set alight with no regard for the wildlife within or the long term environmental consequences. The reasons for this? Profit of course! We buy the products and use the resources created from such devastation. We’re all guilty of it without even knowing we are.

Palm oil plantations are one of the major reasons Indonesia is suffering such devastating deforestation. It is  used in hundreds of products that we all use every day, including chocolate, oven chips, margarine and beauty products. 70% of palm oil is used in food and beauty products, the remaining is used in the bio fuel market which is expanding rapidly.

In 2001 the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established, with the aim of creating ethical and ecologically sustainable means of producing palm oil. Some well known names such as Nestle, Cadbury and Tesco are members of RSPO, this however, only represents 40% of the overall palm oil industry. According to Greenpeace, many of the members have made little or no effort to avoid the worst practices associated with the industry. Some still buy their palm oil from suppliers who destroy rainforests for their plantations.

We cannot deny that palm oil is a useful and lucrative resource, therefore, it is here to stay. We can, however, make changes to ensure palm oil is produced in a sustainable way that doesn’t destroy the natural rainforests and the wildlife within. Many supermarkets are unaware that the products they stock contain palm oil from non sustainable plantations. As consumers it is often very difficult to spot, as it can be labelled as vegetable oil on packaging. So what can we do? Firstly sign the petitions listed below and spread the word, then contact the big names behind your favourite products like Nestle, Cadburys, Neutrogena and Revlon. Let them know you are not happy about the use on non sustainable palm oil, that  you are willing to stop using their products if they refuse to change their ways. This is the only way we can stop the greedy fat cats from draining the world from all its natural resources; hit them where it hurts…their wallets!

Read the first part of this series here

Further reading:



  • Great article! The majority of orangutans that we rescue are from palm oil plantations. Please help us to build a permanent rehabilitation centre for these animals who are rapidly losing their homes.
    – International Animal Rescue

    International Animal Rescue 3rd November 2011 at 2:48 pm Reply
  • Great write up. I was moved to sign one of the petitions as a result.

    Esco 3rd November 2011 at 8:33 pm Reply
  • Great article about sustainability. While we can’t eliminate business we can at least make it sustainable!

    Emma 27th July 2014 at 7:26 pm Reply
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