JAKARTA / LONDON - September 22 - The Orang-utan is facing extinction due to the destruction of rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia to set up oil-palm plantations, new research reveals.
The ‘Oil for Ape Scandal’, published today Septemeber 23 by Friends of the Earth and the world’s leading orang-utan conservation groups, concludes that without urgent intervention the palm oil trade could cause the extinction of Asia’s only great ape within 12 years .
Palm oil is found in many products on supermarket shelves, from bread to margarine, lipstick and soap. Despite being warned for years by environmental groups that oil-palm plantations are associated with rainforest destruction and human rights abuses, the report finds that most UK companies don’t even know where their palm oil comes from.
The report finds that almost 90 percent of orang-utan habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia has now been destroyed. Some experts estimate that 5,000 orang-utan perish as a result every year. The researchers found that oil-palm plantations have now become the primary cause of the orang-utans’ decline, wiping out its rainforest home in Borneo and Sumatra.
New evidence shows that orang-utan rescue centres in Indonesia are over-flowing with orphaned baby orang-utans rescued from forests being cleared to make way for oil-palm plantations. The Indonesian Government is now planning to convert a large part of Tanjung Puting National Park, the world’s most famous protected area for orang-utan, into an oil-palm plantation.
Research in the UK by Friends of the Earth found that at least 84 per cent of UK companies are failing to take effective action to ensure they do not buy palm oil from destructive sources and not one single UK supermarket knows where the palm oil originates in the products it sells. The story of corporate failure on palm oil is repeated across Europe. The European Union is the world’s biggest buyer of palm oil.
Two weeks ago the United Nations published the Kinshasa Declaration, an action plan backed by the UK Government to save the world’s great apes from extinction . The Indonesian Government signed on to this agreement but so far the Malaysian Government has failed to do so. Friends of the Earth and the orang-utan conservation groups are urging both governments to adopt and implement the declaration and end the conversion of orang-utan habitat into oil-palm plantations.
They also say that the failure of European companies to take action shows that they cannot be trusted to act responsibly. They are calling on European Governments and the European Commission to legislate to stop European companies acting in such a damaging way.
Ian Redmond, Chairman of the Ape Alliance, said: “Governments that provide a market for palm oil must legislate to make their corporations responsible and accountable for their impacts. If not, it is we who will have to explain to our children that the orang-utan became extinct, not because of a lack of knowledge, but because of corporate greed and a lack of political will.”
Rully Syumanda of WALHI/friends of the earth Indonesia said:
"We cannot win the battle to save the Indonesian rainforest while companies in consuming countries continue to buy palm oil from sources linked to human rights abuse and species extinction. The Governments of these countries must legislate and force these companies to stop acting so destructively."
Research by Friends of the Earth shows that the forest fires which ravaged the island of Sumatra in August, and continue to burn today, were mostly set by palm oil companies clearing land to set up their plantations. It is estimated that one third of the orang-utan population on Borneo was killed by the forest fires of 1998.
Dr Willie Smits, Founder of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, aid: “The rate of loss of orang-utan has never been greater than in the last three years, and oil- palm plantations are mostly to blame.”
Professor Biruté Galdikas, founder of the Orangutan Foundation International, said: “The orang-utan is endangered because of habitat loss. Today the greatest threat to orang-utan habitat is the continued expansion of oil-palm plantations. Palm oil is the greatest enemy of orang-utan and their continued survival in the wild."
Dr Ian Singleton, Scientific Director for the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, said: “We have already lost huge areas of orang-utan habitat and tens of thousands of orang-utan to the palm oil industry. Now there are reports of an “oil-palm fence” which will stretch 845 kilometres along the border with Malaysia in Borneo, crossing through orang-utan habitat. The problem is truly immense.”
PICTURES of orang-utan can be downloaded from: http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/images/orangutan_report/
FOOTAGE (Broadcast quality) of orang-utans and oil palm plantations is available from the press office at Friends of the Earth with thanks to the Orangutan Foundation.
Interviews with leading orang-utan scientists and campaigners are available.
 The report, The Oil for Ape Scandal – How palm oil is threatening the orang-utan, is published by Friends of the Earth together with the Orangutan Foundation, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation and the Sumatran Orangutan Society as members of the Ape Alliance. For a copy of the summary or full report please go to: Summary: www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/oil_for_ape_summary.pdf
 The Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes was signed on 9th September 2005. The signatories included range states for great apes as well as the European Commission and the following donor countries: Belgium, France, Italy, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States