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Oil Palm and Orangutans: Habitat Destruction Threatens Native Populations

Oct 26, 2015 02:10 PM EDT
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Endangered orangutans and other rare species are suffering due to companies that extract palm oil tearing through their natural habitats on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Thousands of small forest fires have been intentionally set ablaze as a part of the companies' use of slash-and-burn agriculture clearing techniques.

Palm oil is extracted from the fruit produced by oil palm trees and is used in everything from food to health and beauty products but its often cultivated in an unsustainable way, according to the Orangutan Project. Replacing the islands' natural environments with oil palm plantations is severely impacting native habitats. Wild populations of orangutans alone have decreased by approximately 50 percent within the last decade, the project reports. This is in part due to habitat loss but also because so many orangutans have died from smoke inhalation.

"The problem with fire and smoke is absolutely dire," Lis Key, communications manager for International Animal Rescue, said in a statement. "Wild orangutans and orangutans in centers like ours are badly affected by the smoke. Some suffer upper respiratory tract infections, which can even prove fatal. Some of the babies we've taken in recently have been suffering not only from dehydration and malnourishment through lack of food but also breathing problems from the polluted air."

International Animal Rescue is a rehabilitation center for more than 125 injured and orphaned orangutans in Ketapang, Borneo. The organization also rescues many other wild animals suffering around the world.

With the dry and windy season caused by El Niño weather patterns, the intentionally set fires cannot be controlled. This is similar to the raging forest fires plaguing California during their record-long drought. As orangutans try to beat the waves of fire cascading through their homes they get closer to human villages, where adults are killed and their young are sold into illegal pet trade. The International Animal Rescue was able to save one recently-abandoned baby ape that was left in a cardboard box to die, according to a news release. The baby, who has been named Gito, suffers from severe sun exposure.

"Gito is in safe hands now and receiving expert treatment and care at our center in Ketapang. But tragically there are many more like him in desperate need of our help.  Forest fires in Ketapang Regency have resulted in an increase in the number of baby orangutans being captured," Alan Knight, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue, said in the release.

If you would like to help the International Animal Rescue in their conservation efforts, visit their website to make a donation today.

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