An article in yesterday’s Jakarta Post identifies the role of palm oil plantations in the illegal souvenir trade of the skulls of endangered orangutans. Indonesia-based Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) has reported four orangutan skulls found on a palm oil plantation in Central Kalimantan and another orangutan corpse buried on a palm oil plantation in East Kalimantan.
As Indonesia’s biodiverse rainforests are destroyed and fragmented, leading to the rapid decimation of critical habitat to make way for corporate agribusiness operations, orangutan populations become more vulnerable to poachers. And the fact that many palm oil plantations pay their workers wages so low that they’re on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Red List for Slave Labor is only exacerbating the problem of illegal poaching of nearby apes for the lucrative souvenir trade of orangutan skull (even as these plantations nose up to the last bits of orangutan habitat, no less).
As the Jakarta Post article states, effective government enforcement of existing anti-poaching and animal trade laws is needed urgently. It is also the responsibility of the palm oil plantations creating this nightmarish situation to not house or promote these illegal operations. Similarly, major U.S. importers of this bloodied palm oil, like Cargill Inc., should have policies for their palm oil imports that specific creates safeguards against both the human exploitation and animal cruelty from entering this commodity’s supply chain.
This is a situation where fast action is needed. Fortunately, there are activists, researchers, scientists, and communities taking a stand. Together, we can accumulate knowledge and solutions. You can read a first-hand account of Sean Whyte, an inspiring orangutan activist, and his network of Ape Crusaders (the title of his newest book).