KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Demand for palm oil, which is widely used in processed foods, is driving the orang-utan towards extinction by speeding the destruction of their forest habitat, Friends of the Earth said Friday.
The environmental campaigners said Asia's only great ape could be wiped out within 12 years unless there was urgent intervention in the palm oil trade, which it said was also linked with human rights abuses.
"Almost 90 per cent of the orang-utan's habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia has now been destroyed. Some experts estimate that 5,000 orang-utan perish as a result every year," it said in a statement from London.
In a report it dubbed the "Oil for Ape Scandal", the group said wildlife centres in Indonesia were over-run with orphaned baby orang-utans that had been rescued from forests being cleared to make way for new plantations.
"Oil-palm plantations have now become the primary cause of the orang-utans' decline, wiping out its rainforest home in Borneo and Sumatra," it said.
Friends of the Earth said that palm oil is found in one in 10 products on supermarket shelves, including bread, crisps and cereals as well as lipstick and soap, and that many manufacturers did not know where their oil was coming from.
Palm oil plantations have also been blamed for the annual haze crisis which hit Malaysia and Thailand last month, as clouds of smoke and dust from "slash and burn" operations drifted over from Indonesia's Sumatra island.
Source: Borneo Bulletin