(ANIMAL NEWS/WILDLIFE CONSERVATION) Overpopulation, habitat destruction, and climate change are creating the sixth great extinction worldwide. Add in a large, mostly Chinese dose of cultural traditions immersed in magical thinking nonsense (i.e. rhino horn is considered an aphrodisiac, and consuming shark fin soup is a symbol of wealth in various cultures) and in 20 years many of Earth’s great mammals will be gone for good.

Last year, the Indonesian regions of Borneo and Sumatra experienced huge fires ignited by farmers clearing land for palm oil plantations. Destroying more than 10,000 square miles of forests and sickening thousands of people for weeks with its toxic haze, these fires were the worst ever recorded as a result of the prolonged drought and effects of El Niño.

At least nine orangutans were killed and more than 100 of these critically endangered animals had to be relocated. Already, more than 20 percent of their habitat has been destroyed by palm oil plantations, with additional areas also at risk.

A 3-year-old orangutan named Otong, believed to have been left orphaned and homeless after last year's fires, is being cared for at an Indonesian center. Photo Credit: New York Times
A 3-year-old orangutan named Otong, believed to have been left orphaned and homeless after last year’s fires, is being cared for at an Indonesian center. Photo Credit: New York Times

However the suffering of wildlife is part of a much larger story surrounding corporate expansion in a time of climate change.

Palm oil is present in more than half of consumer packaged goods found in grocery stores across the U.S., including chips, cookies, canned soup, baby formula, and much more. With the demand for the product on the rise, Indonesia has precariously granted 15 million acres of land for palm oil concessions in the last 10 years alone.

Although it’s prohibited to clear plantations by burning, law enforcement is extremely lacking. Researchers predict that half of the Borneo’s habitat will be lost due to the development of palm oil plantations, timber plantations, and other factors–which doesn’t account for any illegal expansion of industries that may take place.

Photo Credit: The New York Times
At least nine orangutans were killed in last year’s fires. Photo Credit: The New York Times

Destruction of the earth’s ecosystem also means endangering the lives of the species who live there. Scientists estimate dozens of species are going extinct every day.

If Earth doesn’t shrug humans off completely by collapsing our food chain and oceans, future generations will live a denuded life accessing nature via their wallscreens, Ocular Rift headsets, or holograms with piped-in fake jungle smells to round out their synthetic lives.

Each small step forward seems to be countered by a leap backwards. Fundamental to this battle is changing our view of animals from a source of exploitation and entertainment to a custodial responsibility. We are stewards of the Earth and if you want a snapshot of two ways to go, look at a the difference between green and lush Dominican Republic and poor deforested Haiti. Same island, different politics and values.

Continue reading “Indonesia’s Orangutans Suffer as Fires Rage and Business Grow” for more on the efforts to rehabilitate Indonesia’s homeless orangutans and the battle against greedy palm oil production.

Read the full New York Times article, here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/06/world/asia/indonesia-orangutan-borneo-fires.html