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A baby elephant nuzzles its mother in the Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Critical elephant habitat is being decimated to make room for palm oil plantations. Paul Hitlon / RAN

World's Biggest Brands Are Pushing Indonesia's Endangered Elephants to Extinction

By Emma Rae Lierley

The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia thrums with life. It is an ancient, 6.5 million acres of lush rainforest and steamy peat swamps, and because of its rich biodiversity, is one of the most important rainforests still standing today.

Its clear rivers provide drinking water for millions of people and its lowland and mountainous rainforests are literally the last place on Earth where Sumatran elephants, orangutans, tigers, rhinos and sunbears still coexist in the wild. Globally, we all depend on it for the climate regulating effects such a large carbon-sink can have.

And yet, the Leuser Ecosystem is being actively destroyed for palm oil and other industries.

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Hong Kong's Palm Oil Spill Is Wreaking Havoc on Marine Life

On the night of Aug. 3 two ships collided south of Hong Kong in the approach waters to the Pearl River Delta. According to information obtained from the Tradewinds News, the Japanese GMS chemical tanker Global Apollon and the Pacific International Lines containership Kota Ganteng had a collision but details remain very slim. Details of the damage is also unknown however the Kota Ganteng containership has since sailed onwards to Singapore. The Global Apollon remains at anchor in the waters near the Chinese Guishan Islands just to the South West of Hong Kong's Soko Islands.

The Global Apollon was carrying 9,000 tons of raw palm oil and a substantial (unknown) amount of this was spilt into the surrounding waters. The Guangzhou authorities dispatched nine vessels to assist and contain from reports we have seen, yet the Hong Kong government claim that they were not told of the spill until Aug. 5. By the time the Hong Kong government found out, large amounts of this palm oil began washing up on Hong Kong's southern beaches.

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Small fish feasting on raw palm oil chunks. Gary Stokes / ©Sea Shepherd Global

11 Beaches Closed in Hong Kong After 9,000-Ton Palm Oil Spill

Palm oil is not only disastrous for forests and its inhabitants but—as it turns out—it can also blight our waters and harm marine life.

More than 9,000 tons of palm oil leaked from a cargo ship after a collision in mainland Chinese waters last week, prompting the closure of at least 11 beaches in Hong Kong, sightings of dead fish washing up on beaches and reports of rancid odors wafting from the rotting, congealed mess.

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Historic Verdict in Indonesia’s Fight Against Deforestation

In a historic verdict in defense of forests and human rights, a court in Central Kalimantan has ordered the government of the Indonesian province to review the permits of palm oil companies associated with massive forest and peat land fires in 2015.

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Animals
Christian Kaiser / Greenpeace

60% of the World’s Primates Face Extinction

By Steve Williams

A new report indicates that more than half of wild primate species are facing extinction. With nearly three quarters of the world's primate population already under threat, is there anything we can do to save our primate cousins?

The study, which was conducted by a team of 31 leading scientists from across the globe, looked at the current data we have on the state of primates around the world and the challenges they face, utilizing data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) among other sources. While we have several smaller studies that give us a worrying insight into the decline of primates, this research aims to provide a broader snapshot—and the results aren't encouraging.

Of the total 504 primate species that we have on record it is estimated that 60 percent are under threat of extinction, while 75 percent have populations that are declining. What's more, the researchers believe that unless we take concerted action right now, several primate species may have as little as 25 years before extinction claims them.

To give an idea of how desperate the situation is, the Hainan gibbon, which is found in China, is now thought to have reached just 25 individuals. In fact, 22 out of the 26 primate species residing in China are now either critically endangered or under threat. The picture is similar in other areas like Indonesia and Madagascar, the latter of which is home to lemurs and shares some of the highest burden of primate population loss in the world.

Unfortunately, even when it comes to species who have received global attention and are being protected with conservation efforts, the picture is still worrying.

For example, figures show that the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan saw its habitat decline by nearly sixty percent during the period 1985 and 2007. One of the major contributors to this problem has been land clearing so that humans can use areas that were once the orangutan's home for farming.

While we have previously learned that orangutan populations have shown some surprising resilience to this threat, they cannot survive the onslaught for much longer. Though campaigners have urged tighter controls on things like palm oil and soy production, which together with livestock farming is leading to massive deforestation and thereby driving down habitable areas for the orangutan, action has been sadly lacking.

One thing the study does highlight that intersects with human political development is that civil unrest in the primates' home countries may be one driving force behind this rapid descent toward extinction. In countries where food scarcity has become a problem due to civil war and internal conflict, the scientists noted people may turn to hunting primates as a source of food and particularly as a source of rich protein.

Furthermore, in countries where poverty and a lack of job opportunities create systemic financial burdens, people may turn to hunting primates and sell them on the black market. Obviously both of these are terrible, but unless we tackle the root cause of these actions, namely extreme poverty and conflict, it's unlikely we can create meaningful change.

So can we do anything to stop this decline? The answer is yes and one way actually comes down to many of our buying choices. While global governments can help by utilizing international aid as well as peacemaking to ensure that nations are protecting their primates, we can use our spending power to avoid products that are going to contribute to deforestation and, as a result, species decline.

Prof. Jo Setchell from Durham University, one of the researchers in this study, is quoted by the BBC as saying, "Simple examples are don't buy tropical timber, don't eat palm oil." In terms of broader actions, Setchell also points out, "we need to raise local, regional and global public awareness of the plight of the world's primates and what this means for ecosystem health, human culture and ultimately human survival."

Given that primates are our closest animal cousins, they can teach us so much about ourselves. They also provide a vital link to the animal kingdom that teaches us about other species, too. As primates are often a key species in biodiversity and are a good marker for wider habitat loss, their extinction would signal not just the loss of a profoundly important part of our heritage, but it would mean that the natural world as we know it will have changed fundamentally and not for the better.

If you would like more tips on how you can help save species like the orangutan, Care2 has a guide. We also have information on how to choose products that do not contribute to deforestation and primate loss.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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2 Orangutans Who Spent Their Lives in Cages Are Returned to Their Forest Home

By Alicia Graef

Animal advocates are celebrating the successful rescue, rehabilitation and release of two critically endangered Bornean orangutans who had spent their lives in cages as pets.

The two orangutans, eight-year-old Johnny, and 10-year-old Desi, had spent their lives in confinement as pets before being rescued by a team from International Animal Rescue (IAR) in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

The two have spent the last few years at IAR's Orangutan Conservation Centre in Ketapang where they went to "forest school" to learn all the skills they would need to survive in the wild, ranging from climbing and foraging to making their own nests.

"The rehabilitation process is a long one. It can take seven or eight years," said Karmele Llano Sanchez, IAR's program director in Indonesia. "Being kept as pets for several years can have a very adverse effect on the orangutans' mental and physical health."

Once they mastered those skills, they were moved to a pre-release island where they were monitored and assessed to see if they would be good candidates for release.

Finally, they began the long journey to the forests of West Kalimantan, Indonesia, where they were released.

While they're now free to do as they please, they will still be be closely monitored by a team from IAR to ensure they stay safe and healthy.

IAR believes both Johnny and Desi were saved just in time, but notes that not all those who are rescued will be so lucky. The organization has successfully released 11 orangutans at this site, but is still caring for more than 100 others at its rescue center. More concerning is that they expect the number to grow as orangutan habitat is destroyed by fires and cleared for palm oil, rubber or paper plantations, while still more will suffer from conflicts with us and the illegal wildlife trade.

Over the summer, concern over their declining numbers got Bornean orangutans moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered–just a step away from extinction–on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, while the outlook for Sumatran orangutans isn't much better.

"We can't imagine a bright future for orangutans if their habitat continues to be lost at this rapid rate. They are threatened by the clearing of forests, fires, and also the threat of being caught and sold as pets like Johnny and Desi," added Karmele. "They will only survive when people start to take the problem seriously, although I fear it could be too late by then."

For more info on how to help protect orangutans and their homes, visit International Animal Rescue and the Rainforest Action Network.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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7 Ways You Contribute to Rainforest Destruction on a Daily Basis

By Sophia Lepore

People don't usually think about the destruction of rainforests while washing their hands, applying lipstick or doing laundry. But thanks to high demand for products containing palm oil, which is derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree, consumers are inadvertently contributing to deforestation.

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Exclusive Clip: DiCaprio's Climate Doc Exposes Destruction of Rainforest for Palm Oil as Huge Driver of Global Carbon Emissions

A new documentary produced and starring actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio premieres in Los Angeles today and will be broadcast globally in 45 languages in 171 countries on the National Geographic Channel starting Oct. 30, timed to air in advance of the November elections.

The film highlights the critical role forest destruction plays in driving carbon pollution into Earth's atmosphere and focuses specifically on how the rapid spread of industrial palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia are at the heart of this crisis. The film It is directed by Fisher Stevens who, like DiCaprio, is an Academy Award winner.

Watch the exclusive clip here:

The film captures DiCaprio's visit to the Leuser Ecosystem in Aceh, Indonesia, where extremely high rates of forest clearance have exacerbated the climate change dilemma. Indonesia is now one of the world's top carbon emitting countries, primarily due to the massive deforestation in the region. Before the Flood notes that as it was being filmed in late 2015, man-made fires in Indonesia were spewing more carbon pollution on a daily basis than the entire U.S. economy combined. These illegal fires are an annual occurrence as a method of clearing land for palm-oil plantations. And just more than a week ago, the Indonesian government again declared a national state of emergency due to the severe impacts caused by the out of control fires.

"This important film brings much needed attention to the destruction of rainforests for palm oil, which is a huge driver of global climate change. We must aggressively address the deforestation crisis in places like Indonesia's Leuser Ecosystem," said Lindsey Allen, executive director of Rainforest Action Network. "With palm oil in roughly half of all packaged goods at the grocery store, it's up to all of us to demand major global brands like PepsiCo finally do the right thing and break the link between their products and tropical forest destruction."

DiCaprio met with Allen during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) to discuss the urgent situation facing the Leuser Ecosystem and the critical connection between deforestation and global carbon emissions.

Following his conversation with Allen, DiCaprio's trip to the Leuser Ecosystem caused an international uproar when the Indonesian government briefly threatened him with deportation following his social media posts that drew attention to the deforestation and destruction caused by palm oil expansion. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation later committed three years of major funding for local and international efforts to save the Leuser Ecosystem.

Watch the trailer for Before the Flood here:

Animals

Orangutan Sheds a Tear During Heart-Warming Moment With Pregnant Woman

A popular orangutan at a zoo in England is making headlines again after he was seen on video having a touching moment with a pregnant woman.

Kayley Bettany was visiting Colchester Zoo in Essex with her husband, Kieran, when the zoo's 48-year-old great ape, Rajang, came over and started caressing her belly through the glass.

"When he started playing around with my bump through the glass it amazed me," Kayley told The Daily Mail. "I never thought the orangutan would react this way—he even had a tear in his eye."

The Bettanys have since been back to see Rajang with their daughter, Brooke.

This isn't the first time Rajang has been seen on video completely enthralled with a bun in the oven. Last year, Maisie Knight was at the zoo when her partner Jamie Clarke told her to put her baby bump up against the glass.

Clarke caught the sweet exchange on video, which he later posted on YouTube, of Rajang kissing her bump through the glass.

"Me and my 37 week pregnant partner visited Colchester zoo and [were] amazed when we visited Rajang the orangutan," he wrote on the post. "She is heavily pregnant and before long he was trying to kiss my partner's belly through the glass ... Truly a special animal that has touched our hearts."

As the video gained the attention of the world via social media, the zoo acknowledged Rajang's curiosity and penchant to interact with visitors:

"Rajang has always been a curious orangutan! He loves belly buttons, scars and of course baby bumps! His inquisitive way means he loves to interact with visitors particularly those who might be expecting!"

Following Rajang's most recent exchange, two keepers at the zoo who are expecting are taking his interest one step further to see if he can predict what the sex of their baby will be.

Orangutans, like Rajang, are native to Indonesia and Malaysia, and are currently found only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

In Indonesia, scientists say the extraordinary Leuser Ecosystem is among the most important forests left in Southeast Asia and is critically important to the continued survival of species including orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants. However, it is being lost to palm oil production.

The issue was recently exposed in a short video from the team behind the film Racing Extinction. The video shows how the blind growth in demand for palm oil—the cheapest vegetable oil on the planet which is found in more than half of all packaged goods in an average local supermarket—has recklessly pushed massive, industrial-scale plantations deeper into the heart of Indonesia's rainforests.

"Given the scale of the climate and biodiversity crisis, we must act now to stop the bulldozing of the Leuser Ecosystem for palm oil," Chelsea Matthews, forest campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, said upon the film's release.

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