Written by Ashley Schaeffer
Sumatran Elephants: Critically Endangered Due to Palm Oil and Pulp & Paper Plantation Expansion
A new study led by the University of Sydney appeared in the Journal Nature recently, warning that nearly a third of animal species under threat in developing nations are linked to global trade of manufactured goods and commodities such as palm oil. As the researchers put it: “Human activities are causing the globe’s sixth major extinction event.”
As reported in Reuters, this is the first time that the important role of international trade and foreign consumption as a driver of threats to species has been comprehensively quantified.
In what has already been a devastating year for Sumatran tigers, orangutans and elephants, this study doesn’t bode well for these three species already on the IUCN’s list of critically endangered species, largely due to the encroachment of palm oil and pulp & paper plantations into their habitat:
Here we show that a significant number of species are threatened as a result of international trade along complex routes, and that, in particular, consumers in developed countries cause threats to species through their demand of commodities that are ultimately produced in developing countries. We linked 25,000 Animalia species threat records from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List to more than 15,000 commodities produced in 187 countries and evaluated more than 5 billion supply chains in terms of their biodiversity impacts. Excluding invasive species, we found that 30% of global species threats are due to international trade.
Take, for example, the dire situation with Sumatran elephants. In January of this year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — the world’s leading authority on conservation status of species — upgraded the status of Sumatran elephants from endangered to critically endangered. This came in response to the risk assessment after tracking the loss of 69% of the animal’s habitat over the past 25 years. With their forest homes burned, felled or converted to palm oil and pulp & paper plantations, the wild population has fallen to no more than 2,800.
To add insult to injury, earlier this month at least four elephants were poisoned and killed at a palm oil plantation in the Aceh Province of Sumatra, Indonesia. And a week later, more devastating news: half of the Congo’s forest elephants were killed in the last 5 years.
The links between biodiversity loss and the increased trafficking of commodities like palm oil through complex supply chains are more clear than ever. As a North American consumer, I am more aware than ever that my choices at the grocery store have a huge impact on the ground in the countries where commodities such as palm oil, found in half of all manufactured goods, come from. If you want to know why, check out this palm oil infographic.
According to the study, the United States, the European Union and Japan are the main destinations for commodities associated with species threats, while Indonesia and Malaysia are among the biggest exporters. It’s therefore no coincidence that nearly 90% of the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, where so many incredible species teeter on the brink of extinction.
To combat biodiversity loss, big commodity traders like Cargill must adopt critical supply chain safeguards immediately.
A ranger at the plantation in Aceh Jaya on Sumatra island said he found the 18-year-old female elephant dying on Monday and that locals reported they had seen it walking around with a calf earlier that day.
“We call on the authorities to investigate how the elephant died. If she died from poisoning, we hope authorities will do something about educating locals,” WWF’s Aceh program leader Dede Suhendra told AFP.
“People here in Sumatra who own plantations and farms often kill elephants, tigers too, because they see them as pests.”
Mukhtar, the ranger, said he believed the elephant had been poisoned.
“When I found her, she was foaming at the mouth and bleeding from the rectum, which are strong signs of poisoning,” he said, adding that he was unable to save her with medicine.
Mukhtar said the elephant’s calf was “crying” and “making noises” of distress as it stood by its mother dying on the ground.
Suhendra said that conflict between animals in the jungle and humans had increased in the past decade as swathes of forest are cleared for agriculture.
WWF changed the Sumatran elephant’s status from “endangered” to “critically endangered” in January, largely due to severe habitat loss driven by oil palm and paper plantations.
There are less than 3000 Sumatran elephants remaining in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, marking a 50 per cent drop in numbers since 1985.
source: Herald Sun
- WWF Indonesia calls for probe into elephant death (vancouversun.com)
- WWF calls for investigation into Indonesian elephant death (rawstory.com)
- WWF Indonesia calls for probe into elephant death (terradaily.com)
- Sumatran elephant found poisoned in Indonesia (sacbee.com)
- Indonesia Poisons Rare Sumatran Elephants – Just How Evil is Palm Oil?! (gettingonmysoapbox.wordpress.com)
- Another casualty in the war of elephants and humans (newscientist.com)
- Governor of Aceh who signed palm oil permit: plantation in Tripa “morally wrong” (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Indonesia to investigate contested oil palm concession as governor loses election in Sumatra (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Deforestation and What is left of life (pandabones.wordpress.com)
- SOCP Tripa Battle Call (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
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