How Sustainable Palm Oil Protects Orangutans

Published on: May 19, 2020

(May 18, 2020) Are you banning palm oil because of all the bad things you are hearing about it? For instance about orangutans losing their natural habitats? That’s a shame, since palm oil can also be grown sustainably and protect the lives of people and wildlife. There are many people committed to protecting wildlife and they are creating solutions so animals can live freely around palm plantations. Michelle Desilets, Executive Director of the Orangutan Land Trust, is one of them. She has made it her life’s work to protect orangutans and has a clear mission.

Expelled orangutans

In places where people don’t care about sustainable development there is no attention for environmental protection. These are the places where forests are being cut and burned and where orangutans are chased from their habitats or even wounded. It is these animals that find their way to rescue centers in Southeast Asia. Fifteen years ago, Michelle Desilets realized that setting up more rescue centers was not the solution to protect orangutans from extinction. The solution had to be found in the co-existence of palm oil production and the protection of the natural habitats of animals. Then you’re creating long term sustainable solutions.

Sustainable palm oil is the solution

For over 26 years, Michelle has been committed to protecting orangutans. She started as a volunteer, in Borneo, caring for orphaned babies. Their poignant situation made a lasting impression on her but did not create anti-palm oil sentiment. On the contrary. She understands that the only real solution is the path towards sustainable palm oil development. That’s why she embarked on a journey to collaborate with the industry, figuring out together how to improve practices.

Creating corridors

But how can companies improve? “Choosing sustainable palm oil can save orangutans not only in as much as ‘not hurting them’, but also in working to providing solutions for them’, Michelle explains. “That is why we are working with the PONGO (Palm Oil and NGO) Alliance, so that we are reforesting areas, or creating corridors, for orangutans to move through them.” Michelle continues to collaborate with growers who do their utmost to work on solutions. Supporting them to change their ways to ensure the survival of orangutans.

Learning from primates

Michelle has seen many orangutan babies blossom into adulthood. She has seen how strong these beautiful creatures are, even under the worst circumstances: “We can all learn from their resilience and how noble they are.” She feels she owes them for what they have given her and sees it as her duty to make everyone aware of the importance of transitioning to sustainable palm oil. Turning your back on palm oil is no solution. It will only decrease companies’ motivation to improve, which will lead to less care for nature.

What we can do? Yes, palm oil has a bad reputation. My heart hurts thinking of the devastation in some palm oil growing areas, but I’d rather focus on the positive sides of palm oil. Where people, like Michelle, work tirelessly to create change, and continue calling upon all brands to make

sustainable choices, which means sourcing with respect for nature, people and wildlife. And calling upon all of us, to make the right choices and look out for and choose products made with sustainable palm oil. To ensure that orangutans, and all the other beautiful species we know, will continue to thrive.

Written by Monique van Wijnbergen, Natural Habitat’s Sustainability & Corporate Communications Director and spokesperson for Palm Done Right. 

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