Great Ape Populations Threatened by Vegetable Oil
Great ape populations are literally losing ground as the demand for vegetable oil threatens their Southeast Asian habitats, according to a new analysis.
Forests in Southeast Asia are being converted into oil palm plantations to feed people's growing need for vegetable oil, bringing trouble for great apes native to the area, particularly orangutans.
"The first step is to get this issue on the forefront of public awareness and on the agenda of companies active in Africa and governments, both in and outside of Africa," Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University said in a statement. "Public awareness is key, as consumers have influence through their purchasing behavior."
Palm oil is found in a large number of products, including popcorn, candy, soap and cosmetics. Plantations responsible for growing this popular product have a 42 percent overlap with great ape habitat, and companies given the go-ahead for production in Africa show almost 60 percent overlap with the distribution of great ape species, the new analysis finds.
"Working in Indonesia during the past two decades has given me first-hand experience of the extremely rapid oil palm development, for which large areas of forest have been cleared," Wich said. "Now that companies are looking to Africa, we wanted to determine how large the potential threat to African ape species is."
Quite plainly, his findings showed that the oil palm industry presents a great threat to apes all across Africa - mainly in Gabon, Congo, and The Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the only home to bonobos, relatives of the chimpanzee.
In each of those nations, approximately 80 percent of the area suitable for oil palm growth overlaps with ape habitat.
"There is an urgent need to develop guidelines for the expansion of oil palm in Africa to minimize the negative effects on apes and other wildlife," Wich and his colleagues wrote.
The analysis was described in the Cell Press journal Current Biology, published on July 10.