Palm oil kills orang­utans in In­done­sia peat swamp

Sun.Star Pampanga - - SCIENCE! -

TPalm oil is found in ev­ery­thing from cook­ies and lip­stick to paint, sham­poo and in­stant noo­dles, and In­done­sia is the world's top pro­ducer. As de­mand soars, plan­ta­tions are ex­pand­ing. In Tripa, com­pa­nies drain the swamp, re­leas­ing planet-warm­ing car­bon into the at­mos­phere and clear the for­est of its na­tive trees, of­ten set­ting il­le­gal fires.

This robs orang­utans and other en­dan­gered species of their habi­tats, leav­ing the an­i­mals marooned on small swaths of for­est, boxed-in on all sides by plan­ta­tions. They slowly starve be­cause there is no longer enough food to sus­tain them or they are fre­quently killed by plan­ta­tion work­ers when they emerge from the jun­gle in search of food. Moth­ers of­ten die pro­tect­ing their ba­bies, which are taken and sold as il­le­gal pet s.

On Aug. 10, a res­cue team from the Su­ma­tran Orangutan Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram, ac­com­pa­nied by the In­done­sia's Na­ture Con­ser­va­tion Agency, hiked into the Tripa peat­lands to look for a mother and baby orangutan that had been re­ported in an area be­ing over­taken by oil palms. The plan was to se­date and re­lo­cate them, but when the team ar­rived, there was no sign of the duo. In­stead, they en­coun­tered a 50kilo­gram (110-pound) male orangutan that was about 20 years old. He too was suf­fer­ing, and the team man­aged to tran­quil­ize him and carry him out of the jun­gle in a stretcher net.

He was named "Black," and driven about eight hours to an orangutan rein­tro­duc­tion cen­ter in Jan­tho, Aceh Be­sar. He joined about 100 other pri­mates that have been re­leased in the jun­gle to es­tab­lish a new wild pop­u­la­tion. Only an es­ti­mated 6,600 crit­i­cally en­dan­gered Su­ma­tran orang­utans re­main. Less than 200 are be­lieved to be liv­ing in the Tripa swamp, but it is still one of the dens­est con­cen­tra­tions of orang­utans. The great apes are only found on two is­lands, Su­ma­tra and Bor­neo, which In­done­sia shares with Malaysia. Both sup­port sep­a­rate speci es.

"Cap­tur­ing wild orang­utans is not some­thing we like to do. It is dif­fi­cult, highly stress­ful and risky for all con­cerned," said the res­cue group's direc­tor, Ian Sin­gle­ton, who has been study­ing Su­ma­tran orang­utans since the 1990s. "It re­ally is a last re­sort, and a re­flec­tion of the dire sit­u­a­tion many of these an­i­mals are in as a re­sult of the on­go­ing de­struc­tion of their habi­tat."

The Tripa peat swamp is part of the 2.6 mil­lion hectare (6.4 mil­lion acre) Leuser Ecosys­tem in north­ern Su­ma­tra, which is the last place on earth where orang­utans, tigers, ele­phants and rhi­nos live to­gether in the wild. The en­tire area is also un­der threat from log­ging, pulp and pa­per plan­ta­tions and min­ing. In 2012, huge fires that were in­ten­tion­ally set to clear the land for palm oil ripped through the swamp, killing wildlife and blan­ket­ing sur­round­ing ar­eas in a thick haze.

The In­done­sian gov­ern­ment filed a law­suit against palm oil firm P.T. Kal­lista Alam in 2012 for il­le­gally burn­ing 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) of the Tripa swamp. Three years later, it was or­dered to pay $26 mil­lion in fines and repa­ra­tion. A man­ager was sen­tenced to three years in prison. How­ever, the com­pany filed a law­suit against the gov­ern­ment in July and so far no fines have been paid and no prison time has been ser ved.

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