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The Dark Trail of Palm Oil

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December 29, 2013

By Dani Dennenberg, Humane Educator and Portland Program Director of HEART

When I was eleven-years-old, I did some research about the predicament of orangutans for a class report. I held an inner knowing that what I learned wasn’t right and that something had to change. Never would I have foreseen that in my lifetime, orangutans could very well become extinct. I have no doubt that my career in humane education is partially the result of what I learned then as a young person.

At present, the Bornean orangutan is listed as endangered and the Sumatran orangutan as critically endangered. The destruction and degradation of the tropical rain forest, particularly lowland forest is the main reason orangutans are threatened with extinction. This has been caused primarily by human activity (intense legal logging, illegal logging, conversion of forest to palm oil plantations and timber estates, mining, clearing forest for settlements, and road construction).

Consider Mason, a chimpanzee who came into Orangutan Foundation International’s care after losing his mother. Not surprisingly, he struggles to recover from this trauma. For a long time, Mason was totally dependent upon his caregivers. Although he still likes to sit in their presence during trips to the forest, his development has been slowly progressing. He has formed a friendship with his roommate Turbo, who has had similar difficulties maintaining his health and interacting with others. The two often wrestle together and are becoming more comfortable playing with others. Many orangutans aren’t as fortunate.

In 2014, I’ll have an opportunity to visit the devastation first hand and play an active role in building bridges, enclosures and other structures to allow orangutans like Mason to have as wild of a life as possible given the threats. You can help, too. If you’re reading this article, you are probably already aware of your power as a consumer. What if you knew that your consumer choices could literally affect the outcome of this species?

For more background information, including the climate change and human rights abuses associated with the palm oil industry, a list of palm-oil derivatives to look for while shopping and a delicious palm oil-free “buttery” spread, visit the following links:

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