Peat forest slow dies as water is drained away to make way for palm oil plantations. The Tripa peat swamp forests support the highest density of Sumatran orangutans in the world, but numbers may be down to 6,000 because of illegal activities. Photo : Paul Hilton The two largest oil palm-producing countries are Indonesia and Malaysia and are located in Southeast Asia, a region with numerous endemic, forest-dwelling species. Oil palm producers have asserted that forests are not being cleared to grow oil palm. Our analysis of land-cover data compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that during the period 1990–2005, 55%–59% of oil palm expansion in Malaysia, and at least 56% of that in Indonesia occurred at the expense of forests. Over Borneo and Sumatra as a whole, illegal logging has led to huge declines in orangutans and other wildlife. Where forests are converted to plantations of oil palm or other crops, the consequences are even more serious, with many orangutans starving.
The Sumatran orangutan is classified as Critically Endangered by IUCN. Since 1900, the number of Sumatran orangutans is thought to have fallen by about 91%, with a rapidly accelerating loss towards the end of the 20th century. Photo: Paul Hilton / Earth Tree Images