A female orangutan was shot and killed in Nyaru Menteng, Indonesia last week in the species’ latest struggle with the palm oil industry. Riddled with over 40 shotgun pellets, the orangutan was found with her arms and legs broken on a plantation owned by the Makin Group of Indonesia, a major provider of palm oil to the world market.
The Central Kalimantan Conservation of Natural Resources Authority (BKSDA) delivered the orangutan to the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation but the team there was unable to save her. The veterinarians found that the orangutan was severely malnourished. Horrifically, they also found that her right thigh bone was broken, her left arm was in a state of decomposition, and her upper left arm was broken with open wounds. She also had 10 shotgun pellets in her head, eight in her left leg and pelvis, 18 in her right leg and pelvis, and a further six pellets in her chest and right arm.
The expansion of palm oil plantations are directly responsible for the potential extinction of orangutans, according to Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas, who has spent more than 40 years living and studying the life and behavior of orangutans in the rainforests of Borneo, Indonesia. According to an interview she gave in the Huffington Post, “Borneo is still home to an unequaled number of wild and endemic species, including the Bornean orangutan, found nowhere else in the world, that are perishing at an astonishing rate.”
The clearing of the rainforest has endangered the lives of orangutans more than any other cause of forest loss. Orangutans eat mostly fruit, but can also eat flowers, leaves, ants, termites and, on rare occasion, small mammals. They develop large fat reserves to keep them healthy through food shortages. According to BOS, “Orangutans are highly intelligent creatures with advanced problem-solving skills. They are able to make use of things in their environment for tools and medicines. They display cultural behaviours, with different populations tackling the same problem in different ways. They learn from other orangutans and pass on their own skills when they meet, which is more frequent when food availability is high. In artificial circumstances where food availability is unlimited, such as in captivity or on the BOS Foundation’s pre-release islands, they can quickly develop and share very advanced skills, such as fishing, swimming with the use of a float, or tool-use to efficiently access foods.”
Palm oil is a cheap vegetable oil produced mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia. In fact, the two countries produce 85 percent of the world’s palm oil, according to Say No To Palm Oil. It has a high heat tolerance and is one of the few saturated vegetable oils, making it a common cooking ingredient and a good replacement for food products that previously used hydrogenated vegetable oils. It is also found in 40 to 50 percent of the baked goods, confectionery, shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning agents, washing detergents and toothpaste products in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K.
As Galdikas says, “There is no other menace that can pose such a threat to the Bornean virgin rainforest, and the few orangutan populations that remain, as the palm oil industry.”