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Palm Oil Action Australia | September 26, 2017

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Bornean orangutans now critically endangered, with change blamed on palm oil

  • On August 19, 2016
Bornean orangutans now critically endangered, with change blamed on palm oil
Photo by Stephanie Adams/Houston Zoo

Orangutans not only share 98 percent of our DNA, but they are also treasured and beloved animals – and they need help in order to survive the decline. After a recent assessment of orangutans in Southeast Asia, scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have officially downgraded the status of the orangutans living in Borneo to “critically endangered.” This new classification is a result of sharp declines in Bornean orangutan populations that have been amplified by habitat loss and hunting.

Dr. Marc Ancrenaz serves as the scientific director of HUTAN, a not-for-profit organization studying orangutans, and is the co-director of the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project in Sabah Malaysia. Dr. Ancrenaz writes, “This downgrade in status is an urgent call to reconcile people and wildlife and to reinvent ways for people and orangutans to share the same environment.” The status of the Bornean orangutan is now at the lowest and final level before being listed as “Extinct in the Wild.”

As one of the Houston Zoo’s wildlife conservation partners, the zoo is proud to support Dr. Ancrenaz and HUTAN in efforts to protect wildlife like the Bornean orangutan from extinction.

One of the activities that threatens wild orangutans’ survival is deforestation from unregulated palm oil plantations. Palm oil is a common ingredient in everyday items like soap, shampoo, snacks, and more. Because palm oil can be so widely used, a lot of people and companies want it and that means farmers need more land for growing.

Unfortunately, the palm oil industry has caused extensive deforestation as sensitive rainforests are cut down or burned to make room for new oil palm plantations. These rainforests are home to animals like orangutans, tigers and elephants, and they’re losing their habitat every single day.

Some environmental groups are fighting this trend, and they have U.S. corporations in their crosshairs.

Nearly 100,000 members of SumOfUs, an international corporate watchdog, is renewing pressure on Krispy Kreme to act on it’s no-deforestation commitment regarding the sourcing of palm oil used in the donut and coffee giant’s products. While Krispy Kreme agreed to change its harmful palm oil policies by the end of 2016, the donut giant has since refused to cut ties with the IOI Group — a leading Malaysian palm oil trader that has repeatedly failed to address complaints of deforestation and human rights violations, according to a SumOfUs press release.

The good news is that a growing group of producers are working to protect these areas where palm oil is harvested, and the animals that live there.

“Krispy Kreme’s continued use of unsustainable palm oil stands in contrast to actions taken by other companies, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Unilever, Nestlé, Kellogg, Mars and General Mills, who have all cut ties with the controversial palm oil trader. By sourcing conflict palm oil to fry its donuts, Krispy Kreme is actively contributing to the slashing and burning of carbon-rich rainforest,” said Hanna Thomas, campaign manager at SumOfUs. “IOI is a repeat offender that has been suspended twice from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in six years for deforestation, peatland drainage, operating without proper licenses, failing to prevent fires in its Indonesian concessions, and land conflict with local communities.”

The Houston Zoo encourages guests to become informed consumers and look for products from companies who responsibly source their palm oil. To learn more about palm oil, visit