Indonesian Palm Oil: A Case Study of Environmental Injustice. Blog 2: Endangerment of Endemic Species

The Sumatran tiger, endangered as its habitat declines

Environmental injustice as a result of the expanding palm oil industry in Indonesia is rife. In my first blog I spoke about the justice issues

surrounding the clear felling of Indonesian rainforest in terms of its contribution to global warming. However, the alarming deforestation rate is a concern not only for people anxious about the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere, but is a concern for animal lovers and animal rights activists all over the world.

Indonesia is home to many endemic species that are becoming endangered due to the habitat loss associated with deforestation. In a recent study, oil palm plantations were shown to contain half the vertebrate species that were contained in primary forest (Fitzherbert et al., 2008) and Indonesian forest contains some of the most wonderful vertebrate species in the world including the Sumatran Tiger, Elephant, Orang-utan and Javan Rhino, which was declared extinct in October 2011 (Watts, 2012).

As well as oil palm plantations containing less vertebrate species within them, the species composition changes, displacing many cavity dwelling species with rats and their predators including blood pythons, owls and leopard cats (Fitzherbert et al., 2008). Although the plantations encourage some invasive species and opportunistic predators, in Indonesia the most spectacular forms of wildlife are endangered as their habitat disappears. One of the species most endangered is the Sumatran Elephant.

The Sumatran elephant lost half of its population in one generation with deforestation seen as the primary cause. As the plantations have increased in number, Sumatra has seen two thirds of its natural lowland forest removed, destroying the habitat of these magnificent creatures. Moreover, most of the elephant population live in unprotected areas of Indonesian forest, where logging, poaching and other human activity continues, putting the species at even higher risk of extinction (Watt, 2008).

Not only is species endangerment the case for the Sumatran Elephant, but the Sumatran Orang-utan is also at risk due to habitat loss for oil palm conversion (Yarrow Robertson & Van Schaik, 2001) and the Sumatran tiger, for habitat loss and poaching increasingly deplete its numbers (Kinnaird et al., 2003).

For animal lovers and animal rights activists, the destruction of the habitat of some of the Earth’s most fascinating creatures invokes a sense of huge injustice. The plantations are putting species, which could be studied and viewed for generations to come, on the brink of extinction. Moreover, the creatures at risk can’t voice for themselves the anguish they are going through. Therefore, it becomes our responsibility as Geographers to help minimize the impact of oil palm plantation on endangered species by helping to map the land uses of Indonesia and the whereabouts of endemic species, as well as raising awareness by studying and communicating our results and opinions to a wide audience, through academic journals, social networking sights and through blogs like this one.

References:

Fitzherbert, E., Struebig, M., Morel, A., Danielsen, F., Bruhl, C., Donald,P. and Phalan, B. (2008) ‘How will oil palm expansion affect

biodiversity?’ Trends in Ecology and Evolution 23 (10), 538-545

Kinnaird, M., Sanderson, E., O’Brien, T., Wibisono, H. and Wooler, G (2003) ‘Deforestation trends in a tropical landscape and implications for endangered large mammals,’ Conservation Biology 17 (1), 245-257

Watts, J. (2012) ‘Sumatran elephant upgraded to critically endangered status,’ The Guardian [online] (last updated 06.00 am on Tuesday 24 January 2012) Available at: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jan/24/sumatran-elephant-upgraded-critically-endangered?INTCMP=SRCH&gt; [Accessed 22 March 2012]

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