The extinction of the world's great apes, taking place in remote rainforests and seemingly out of our control, is much closer than you might imagine -- and the solution is nearer still.
Massive fires, intentionally and unconscionably started by palm oil companies as a means of clearing forests, are, right now, ripping apart the world-renowned Tripa rainforest of Indonesia. This man-made inferno inside one of the world's most ecologically important forests is still smoldering, and has killed more than 100 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans -- a third of the local population -- so far.
The Tripa rainforest fires are a wake up call to the world that the iconic orangutan is in serious danger of becoming the first of the great apes to be pushed to extinction.
If this unspeakably sad fate were to come to pass, no one would be able to say we did not see it coming.
A recent investigation by the Indonesian government has confirmed that these catastrophic fires were set systematically and intentionally by palm oil companies for the purpose of clearing the land to plant oil palm plantations. Using fire to clear forests in Indonesia is illegal and the Tripa forest, besides being part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is protected by multiple Indonesian laws.
The fires have been devastating not just for the forest's unique population of orangutans and other imperiled species including Sumatran tigers, rhinoceroses and Asian elephants, but also for the surrounding communities of traditional fisher people whose livelihoods are dependent on the forest's rich resources.
At the heart of these fires is a seemingly unassuming additive -- palm oil. Palm oil is in nearly 50 percent of all packaged goods in grocery stores across the country and is grown in rainforest-cleared plantations in places like the Tripa forest. Despite widespread international concern, global palm oil traders, like the U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill, continue to ensure that the palm oil produced in Tripa, and places like it, wind up on our grocery store shelves and in our homes.
Companies like Cargill are ensuring that you and I are unwittingly financing the destruction of Indonesia's precious rainforests... and unwittingly endorsing the fires started in the Tripa forest.
This is a moment for people across the globe to come together to call for the protection of man's closest relative and insist that the palm oil in our products be free from controversy. A coalition called Save the Tripa Peat Swamp Forests has created a bold set of demands in response to this ongoing crisis, and has called for an international day of action on April 26 to highlight this massive tragedy, and they need all of us.
In the lead up to the 26, you can also demand Cargill adopt safeguards on the palm oil it trades to ensure the company can guarantee that it is not profiting from -- or endorsing -- situations like the fires in Tripa.
The emergency underway in the rainforests of Indonesia is a moment of truth that tests our resolve and ultimately our values. When a crisis of this scale erupts it is actions that matter, not words.
Follow Rebecca Tarbotton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@beckytarbotton