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Orang-utans and palm oil in Malaysian Borneo

Baby orangutan in Sabah, Malaysia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler 2008.

Orangutans vs palm oil in Malaysia: setting the record straight

The Malaysian palm oil industry has been broadly accused of contributing to the dramatic decline in orangutan populations in Sabah, a state in northern Borneo, over the past 30 years. The industry has staunchly denied these charges and responded with marketing campaigns claiming the opposite: that oil palm plantations can support and nourish the great red apes. The issue came to a head last October at the Orangutan Colloquium held in Kota Kinabalu. There, confronted by orangutan biologists, the palm oil industry pledged to support restoring forest corridors along rivers in order to help facilitate movement of orangutans between remaining forest reserves across seas of oil palm plantations. Attending NGOs agreed that they would need to work with industry to find a balance that would allow the ongoing survival of orangutans in the wild. Nevertheless the conference was still marked by much of the same rhetoric that has characterized most of these meetings — chief palm oil industry officials again made dubious claims about the environmental stewardship of the industry. However this time there was at least acknowledgment that palm oil needs to play an active role in conservation.

While several environmentalists expressed doubt of the industry’s commitment to rainforest conservation, Dr. Marc Ancrenaz, the Co-Founder and Co-Director of HUTAN, the NGO that helped organize the event, was encouraged that the two sides are at least talking. As a follow up to the meeting, and some of the spin that followed, Ancrenaz answered some questions on palm oil in Sabah and the Kinabatangan river basin, where HUTAN focuses its efforts.

Continue reading: Orangutans vs palm oil in Malaysia: setting the record straight

Adult male orangutan in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Photo by Rhett A. Butler 2006.

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