Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas on Orangutan Refugees in Their Own Land/93

World Wildlife Fund

World Wildlife Fund

Palm oil has become the second-most important oil after petroleum, and 85% of all produced and exported palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, making them the largest producers of palm oil worldwide. According to The Nature Conservancy, forest loss, largely for palm oil concessions, in Indonesia has contributed to the death of nearly 3,000 orangutans a year over the past three decades. At our current rate of destruction, It is predicted that orangutans will face complete extinction by 2050.

“The situation with orangutans is dire. As the forests are annihilated, orangutans are left homeless, they are refugees in their own land. The canopies where they find food and where they live is demolished and they are forced on to the ground. They are not knuckle walkers, or used to the ground and that is where they are forced to live. So they become victims, they are sitting ducks. Anyone can shoot them, and that is what happens. They are killed for their children in the pet trade, they are killed as agricultural pests from palm oil plantations.”--Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas

This week we are joined by Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, a globally renowned anthropologist, conservationist, and orangutan researcher. She has been researching and working with wild and wild-born ex-captive orangutans for nearly half a century. With the exception of Dr. Jane Goodall, she has conducted the longest continuous study of any wild population of animals in the history of science. Since first arriving in Borneo in 1971, she has implemented numerous orangutan research and conservation. In 1986, Dr. Galdikas established the Orangutan Foundation International, based in Los Angeles. OFI funds operations in Indonesia and has sister organizations in Australia and Canada. Dr. Galdikas is the recipient of the prestigious Kalpataru Award, the highest honor given by the Republic of Indonesia for outstanding environmental leadership, she is the only person of non-Indonesian birth and one of the first women to be recognized by the Indonesian government with this award. She has published four books, including her biography Reflections of Eden.



The number one thing ordinary citizens can do to mitigate this threat to orangutan's continued existence is cease consumption of palm oil products and raise awareness on this insidious, destructive oil.

The most common products that contain palm oil range from processed foods like cookies, ice cream, bread, cereal, nut butters, frozen meals, chocolate, granola bars, candy, chips, dried fruit, pastries, crackers, and pet food, to personal care items like lipstick, laundry detergent, toothpaste, mascara, foundation, nail polish, vitamins, lip balms, soap, shampoo, and conditioner.

There are over 200 names for palm oil and ingredients derived from palm oil. In 2014 the European Union made palm oil labeling compulsory, but in the United States, it is legal, and common, for companies to use the term “vegetable oil” when they really mean palm oil. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any products that have ingredients with the word “palm” in it, i.e. palmitoyl, palmate, palm kernel etc. Another trick you can use is by looking at a product’s saturated fat content, if it makes up more than 40% of its total fat content, it will almost always contain palm oil.

Common alternative names for palm oil include: Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Vegetable Glycerin, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, and Palmityl Alcohol.

For a full list of alternative names visit: https://www.palmoilinvestigations.org/names-for-palm-oil.html

You can bet that most prepackaged snacks or mass-produced personal care products from corporate giants like Nestle, Unilever, Kraft, etc. contain palm oil. One of the best steps you can take is to replace store bought with homemade. If you choose to continue to buy products that might have palm oil in them, research the brands you frequent individually and try to choose products that contain clearly labeled oils, like “100% sunflower oil.”

Less than 7% of the total production of palm oil is certified as sustainable. Additionally, the vast majority of organizations dedicated to protecting orangutans and the rainforest, state that there is really no such thing as “sustainable” palm oil. In fact, a Borneo Futures report for the Orangutan Land Trust and Wilmar International found that orangutan populations decline at similar rates between RSPO-certified and non-certified plantations. So the strongest action you can take is to avoid palm oil altogether. As Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas mentions in our episode, if you use palm oil-based products, you have orangutan blood on your hands.

Of course, you can always participate in both political and consumer outreach. Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas’s organization, Orangutan Foundation International, encourages us to write to officials in both the Cabinet of Indonesia and the Cabinet of Malaysia and express our global concern for orangutans, rainforests, and forest-dwelling communities. If you discover that a company you purchase products from is using palm oil, or not being transparent about their ingredients, we encourage you to take a few minutes to call, email, or tweet them and let them know that you are considering their use, or non-disclosure, or palm oil in your purchasing decisions.

Music: unknown traditional Sape’

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