Don't turn a blind eye to what's in your food- it could be killing elephants
From the minute we have breakfast to the moment we brush our teeth and go to bed, the vast majority of us will be consuming palm oil without even realizing it, or realizing the damage to the natural world that this is doing. Palm oil is a key ingredient in everything from cereal, biscuits and margarine to shampoo, lipstick and toothpaste. Our insatiable demand for these products is ripping the heart out of Asia's forests and driving critically endangered animals to extinction.
This includes the Sumatran elephant, the most endangered of all the world's elephants. With barely more than 2,000 left in the wild, forest clearance has already halved their population within one generation. Roughly 85 per cent of their habitat lies outside protected areas, mostly in the lowlands and gentle hills that are the first to be cleared for logging, mining, and paper and palm oil production. As the forest disappears, elephants take to the palm oil plantations and farms, bringing them into conflict with people.
The consequences are alarming: between 1984 and 2009, approximately 700 elephants were captured and placed in captivity. Most would die, until Elephant Family stepped in with the Veterinary Society for Sumatran Wildlife Conservation to transform their lives. Many others have been poisoned, the most recent being two found dead in Tesso Nilo National Park, Riau Province on 3rd June; they are thought to have eaten rat poison from a palm oil plantation nearby.
The equally tragic story of Raja the baby elephant is just the tip of the iceberg that threatens to sink the Sumatran elephant. The Ecologist Film Unit came across him recently while documenting the Sumatran elephant's demise with Elephant Family; he was being held hostage by villagers demanding compensation for their loss of crops to elephants. He died a week ago despite our best efforts to rescue him.
These elephants might still be alive if their habitat had not been cleared so that we could have palm oil. Addressing this is not straightforward however. Palm oil is not often declared in lists of ingredients, but is hidden as a generic 'vegetable oil', or as one of its many derivatives, such as sodium laureth sulphate in personal care products.
Continue reading at The Ecologist.
Palm oil image via Shutterstock.