On March 30th, the newspaper headline read, Up in Smoke: Ecological Catastrophe in Sumatran Swamps. I saw this picture, and kept reading:
“Fires raging unchecked in an Indonesian peat swamp forest could wipe out the remaining Sumatran orangutans which live there, conservationists are warning. The forest is one of the last refuges of the great apes. The illegal fires, started by palm-oil companies clearing land to plant the lucrative crop, are believed to have killed at least 100 orangutans – one-third of those living in the Tripa swamp.”
The line The illegal fires started by palm oil companies clearing land to plant the lucrative crop …glared back at me. These weren’t accidental deaths by an accidental fire – this was a fire intentionally started to clear lands not only homes to the orangutan but thousands of other species that call the tropical peat swamps and forests of Southeast Asia their homes.
So that’s when I did a little more digging to find out just how common it was for a company to clear land by burning, not caring about what peoples or animals call that piece of land, “home”. The answers I found were pretty shocking, and if you stay tuned the next 11 days, you’ll learn shocking new things about the foods and products you use daily and how they are driving unrelenting forest and peatland destruction in Southeast Asia. But unlike many tricky problems of our day, this problem has solutions. There are things YOU can do as a consumer to make sure the products you buy don’t support this vicious cycle.
Just for a little background on the Tripa Peat Swamp – where these fires were lit: it is one of South East Asia’s most important biodiversity hotspots, a place on Earth where the Sumatran Tiger, Rhino, Elephant and Orangutan are all found living side by side.
When these forest fires are set on purpose to clear land for plantations – not only do these fires burn through the orangutan’s habitat at a fast-pace but because these apes are not the swiftest creatures, hundreds even thousands of them are believed to have burned to death because they cannot escape the flames fast enough! For those that do survive and one day return to find their previously lush homes replaced by a palm oil plantation, they are often shot by plantations owners/farmers.
For the orangutan, an already and endangered species, the fast-moving expansion of palm oil plantations at a massive scale because of increasing demand for palm oil from consumers like you and me is a serious threat.