Conservation Commentary: Survival of Nearly 10,000 Orangutans in Borneo Oil Palm Estates at Stake

Orangutans use oil palm landscapes, and if sufficient food resources are provided and human-orangutan conflict avoided, viable populations could survive in landscapes with both oil palm and natural forests. Photo by and courtesy of Marc Ancrenaz

by Erik Meijaard & Marc Ancrenaz on Mongabay

Ever since the palm oil industry started its industrial-scale expansion in South-East Asia it has been under pressure from environmental activists and NGOs for its negative impacts. Much of that criticism was justified because many palm oil companies were established by clear-cutting logged-over forests and replacing these with palm plantations. Biodiversity losses are massive in such conversions.

To help reduce the environmental impacts of the industry, criteria for sustainable palm oil were developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a multi-stakeholder standard-setting platform. Many have questioned RSPO’s ability to reduce the environmental and social impacts of oil palm development, but few quantitative studies exist to substantiate these criticisms. Here we present what we believe is the first study of RSPO’s effectiveness in reducing loss of forests and orangutan habitats on Borneo.

In a study coordinated by Borneo Futures and funded by Wilmar International, we mapped 2,717 oil palm estates and concessions on Borneo, of which 80 percent were active in 2016 (i.e., they had planted oil palms as detected on satellite imagery). For each area we determined: 1) whether orangutans were present; 2) what the population trend had been since 1999; 3) how much deforestation has occurred between 2000 and 2015; and 4) whether companies were RSPO-certified or not.

This excerpt from an article appeared in and is courtesy of and can be read in its entirety here.

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