5 min read

Your Soap Bar Is Killing Endangered Orangutans

<p>Joan Campderrós-i-Canas/Flickr</p>

In a tragic scene, a dying orangutan was found lying in Borneo with 40 air rifle pellets in her body, 10 of them in her head. Her arms and legs were broken and, despite the best efforts of medics, she died on Thursday.

The orangutan had been living on the fringes of a palm oil plantation, a farm that produces oil used in many packaged foods. It's also in lipsticks, soaps, biodiesel and countless other products.

The plantations are notorious for conflict with orangutans, because they usually set up shop in the heart of orangutan habitat. And, according to the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, the group that tried to rescue the female orangutan, palm oil plantations have been known to provoke similar incidents all over Indonesia.

(Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation)

"This added a long list of conflict between between industry and wildlife, as well as [the] practice of nature exploitation," the group said in a statement. It called on Indonesia's government to protect the endangered species, which has about 54,500 individuals left in the wild. That number is estimated to be less than 14 percent of what it was in the middle of the 20th century.

Despite these low numbers, the slaughter of orangutans happens all the time in Indonesia. A 2011 study found that 750 orangutans were killed in just one year. Estimates for previous years have been even higher.

Though killing an orangutan is illegal in Indonesia - many cases have linked employees at palm oil companies to the slaughter. The arrests of two palm oil workers in 2011 for orangutan killings revealed that the men were paid $100 for each ape by the plantation owners. Palm oil owners see them as pests, because they sometimes eat their crops. This, combined with hunting for food and the pet trade, makes conflict with humans one of the largest threats to Bornean orangutans.

And not only are some rogue palm oil companies seeking out orangutans to slaughter them, some are also killing them in another way: cutting off their food supply. Over the past 50 years, Indonesia has lost half of its rain forests, which harbor the foods and habitats that orangutans need to survive.

One of the best ways to help save orangutans is to boycott companies that source unsustainable palm oil - and to demand that they improve their standards. See this page to find out more information about palm oil and how to help orangutans stay in Indonesia's forests. This site also has a list of certified sustainable palm oil products.