The Indonesian island of Sumatra has lost half of its forest since 1985, primarily through mass burnings to clear land for palm oil plantations. Indonesia and Malaysia supply more than 80 percent of the world’s palm oil. It is used for biofuel and cooking oil, lipstick and chocolate. The destruction of habitat has been devastating to the orangutan, whose name means “people of the forest” in Malay. Fewer than 15,000 orangutans remain in Sumatra. Even though another 100,000 orangutans still survive on the neighboring island of Borneo, the number of orangutans there declined by more than that number between 1999 and 2015.
Some predict the orangutan, as forest continues to be cleared for agriculture, will be the first great ape to be extinguished in the wild.
A few days after I learned of the orangutan decimation, I read that almost 200 gray whales have washed ashore dead this year along Pacific beaches between Mexico and Alaska. Countless other carcasses have dropped to the ocean floor — an ocean congested with plastic, as about 8 million tons of it end up there each year.