Pregnant in Rural Borneo: My Introduction to Orangutans and the ‘Evil Palm’

Pregnant in Rural Borneo: My Introduction to Orangutans and the ‘Evil Palm’

The Borneo rainforest is 130 million years old making it the oldest rainforest in the world.  It is home to 15,000 species of flowering plants, 3,000 trees species, 221 species of terrestrial mammals and 420 species of birds.  It is one of the only remaining natural habitats for the endangered Orangutan.  In Indonesian, the word orang-utan means ‘forest man’.  (A fun fact is that orangutans share 96.4% of our human genes.)

While in Borneo, I witnessed firsthand the rich biodiversity seen in the rainforest and the sad reality of illegal logging and palm oil plantations, which are destroying it.  When someone first mentioned ‘the evil palm’ I had no idea what was being spoken about.  The evil palm is a term used to describe the palm trees that are being planted throughout Borneo for the production of palm oil, an edible vegetable oil that can be used for cooking, packaged foods, or consumer goods.  The conflict here is that profit-driven investors are destroying thousands of hectares of rainforest to clear land for these palm oil plantations.  And, as a result, the natural habitat of orangutans is being destroyed.  In fact, they are currently listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  After visiting these orangutans in their natural habitat and observing their playful nature, I realized that it would be nothing short of tragic to lose this amazing species just because we were unable to protect their home.

Besides destruction of the rainforest, the palm oil plantations are causing massive CO2 emissions.  Indonesia is now the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases as a result.  In fact, by 2020 Indonesian Borneo is projected to contribute more CO2 emissions to the atmosphere than all of Canada.

Seeing these palm oil plantations firsthand, though, was the most powerful aspect of my education on deforestation.  As far as the eye could see, there were rows upon rows of dusty palm trees next to small patches of remaining rainforest.  It was very clear to see that all of those birds, animals, flowers and trees will soon be a distant memory if this rampant rainforest destruction does not stop.  Sadly, I do know that most Americans are probably unaware that we are even unintentionally supporting the palm oil industry as palm oil is being used in many of products we use and consume including breakfast cereals, girl scout cookies, and even household cleaning products and soap.  In fact, palm oil is used in 50% of all consumer goods from lipstick to body lotion.  It is our own North American food and agriculture companies that own and operate these palm oil plantations and also purchase from them.

The best way to help stop the destruction of our precious forests is through education and awareness.  If more people knew about how rapidly and senselessly the rainforest is being destroyed in Borneo, we would be much better equipped to demand change.

For more information on palm oil plantations, please visit Rainforest Action Network or Health in Harmony.

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Aaliya Yaqub MD

Dr. Aaliya Yaqub MD, is an internist and postdoctoral research fellow in the department of Immunology and Rheumatology at Stanford University School of Medicine. She and her husband, are expecting their first baby later this month.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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