Palm Oil Crisis

Protect Wild Orangutans.

Discover complex issues about palm oil and orangutans, from endangered species to reforestation, biodiversity and biofuel. Find responsible, sustainable conservation choices to support wildlife and wild places.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Palm Oil Awareness Mission Statement:

To make a difference for wild orangutans by raising awareness about the palm oil crisis and encouraging people to take action by providing tools and information that will allow them to make globally responsible consumer choices.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Supports Sustainable Palm OIl

Conservation organizations are coming together to speak with one voice at this crucial time. Please join us in making sustainable palm oil the norm.
To learn more, watch this video and read this statement.

Ways to Help Orangutans Now:


    • Orangutan-friendly Halloween Guide 2019 – PDF
    • Orangutan-friendly Ice Cream Guide 2019 – PDF
    • Orangutan-friendly Picnic Guide 2019 – PDF
    • Orangutan-friendly Self-Care Supplies Guide 2019 – PDF
    • Orangutan-friendly Spring Guide 2019 – PDF
    • Orangutan-friendly Cleaning Supplies Guide 2019 – PDF
    • Orangutan-friendly Valentine Guide 2019 – PDF
    • Orangutan-friendly Holiday Guide 2018 – PDF
    • GET the FREE Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping Guide App v2.0:
    • Download the free Sustainable Palm Oil App for Android on Google Play badge button       Download the free Sustainable Palm Oil App from the App Store badgge button!


    • Want to TALK about sustainable palm oil but not sure how to get started? — Check out our Elevator Speech Ideas .pdf

    • WATCH this Video:


    • LEARN MORE – Discover more about the palm oil crisis and how it’s affecting orangutans below and at Resource Links.




Origin of the Palm Oil Crisis

wild orangutan photo

Summarizing the Crisis.

  • Supply and demand pressures are driving the production of palm oil up to an all-time high. Found in cookies, crackers, frozen dinners, shampoo, lotions, cosmetics, pet food, and many other products, palm oil is now the most widely produced edible oil. It is also found in a wide array of products sold in natural food stores, and it is being used as a possible fuel alternative.
  • Millions of acres of rainforest in Borneo & Sumatra are cut down each year to plant more oil palm.   After logging rainforest habitat, palm oil companies often use uncontrolled burning to clear the land or peat swamp.  In 1997-98 a devastating fire killed almost 8,000 orangutans in Borneo.
  • Instead of using already cleared land, some companies choose to cut down healthy rainforest. They gain added profits from the timber, and they can ignore the regulations that sustainable plantations abide by.
  • The increased demand for palm oil is fueling destruction of the rainforest where Sumatran and Bornean orangutans live. Estimates show that if something isn’t done soon to stop the spread of non-sustainable palm oil plantations, orangutans and many other endangered species will go extinct.
  • There are so many things you can do to help turn back the tide of this crisis and make a difference for wild orangutans.

Download Make a Difference for Wild Orangutans Educational Handout” – .pdf



What is Palm Oil?

Get the details on what palm oil is, where it’s grown, and more.

Photo of palm oil plantation in Indonesia

  • It is a form of edible vegetable oil obtained from the fruit of the African oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis). .
  • African oil palms originated in West Africa, but can flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. The majority of all palm oil is grown and produced in Borneo and Sumatra, although this crop is expanding into Africa and South America.
  • Palm oil plantations are NOT part of the rainforest.  Palm oil is an introduced agricultural crop.
  • Palm oil is the most widely produced edible oil.
  • Over 44 million metric tons are produced in Indonesia and Malaysia per year (2009) and this is increasing.
  • You probably eat and use palm oil every day.  It is found in many foods, cosmetics and bath products.  When you look for it on product lables it is also called palm kernel oil and its derivatives, palmitate and palmitic acid.  Actually, there are more than 50 names for palm oil that may be used on product lables.
  • Demand for palm oil is rapidly increasing because of trans-fat health concerns and bio-fuel development.

Where in the world is this happening?

  • Borneo and Sumatra are islands in Southeast Asia.
  • Three countries occupy parts of Borneo:  Indonesia (the largest part), Malaysia and the small country of Brunei.

Map of Indonesia


Map of Indonesia



Why not Boycott?

Photo of palm oil fruit

Responsible choices involve Sustainable Palm Oil.

  1. Oil palms are the most productive type of all the edible oil crops. Oil palms produce 4-10 times more oil per acre than other crops like soy or canola. In this way, palm oil can be a more environmentally friendly oil, because less land is needed to produce the same amount of oil.

  2. Indonesia and Malaysia are countries that struggle with poverty and palm oil is a huge part of the economy.  Without it, millions of additional people would be unemployed.

Photo of harvesting palm fruit in Indonesia  3. There will always be a demand for edible oil, and demand is growing due to worldwide population growth.  Palm oil is in many of the items we eat and use every day. If we boycott palm oil, another crop will take its place.

 4. If grown the right way – sustainably – palm oil can be the best choice for vegetable oil.

 5. It does not seem effective or realistic to boycott. Palm oil and its derivatives have more than 50 different names on product labels (see Palm Oil Names & Derivitives in next expandable below). This makes it difficult for consumers to know if products contain palm oil.

6. Discover Why Palm Oil Isn’t the Enemy.



Palm Oil Names & Derivatives

Various Names of Palm Oil

  1. arachamide mea
  2. capric triglyceride
  3. caprylic triglyceride
  4. caprylyl glycol
  5. cetyl alcohol
  6. cocoa butter equivalent (CBE)
  7. cocoa butter substitute (CBE)
  8. elaeis guineensis
  9. emulsifier (some can be palm oil derived)
  10. epoxidized palm oil (UV cured coatings)
  11. ethylene glycol monostearate
  12. ethylhexyl palmitate
  13. fatty alcohol sulphates
  14. glyceryl stearate
  15. isopropyl
  16. isopropyl palmitate
  17. mono-glycerides of fatty acids
  18. myristoyl
  19. octyl palmitate
  20. oleyl betaine
  21. palm kernel oil
  22. palm oil
  23. palm olein
  24. palm stearine
      1. palmitate
      2. palmitoyl oxostearamide
      3. palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3
      4. peg-100 stearate
      5. peptide complex
      6. saponified elaeis guineensis
      7. sls
      8. sodium lauryl
      9. sodium lauryl sulphate
      10. sodium lauryl sulfate
      11. sodium lauryl sulfoacetate
      12. sodium palm kernelate
      13. sodium palmate
      14. sodium stearate
      15. sodium laureth sulfate
      16. sodium laureth sulphate
      17. sodium lauroyl lactylate
      18. stearamidopropyl dimethylamine
      19. steareth-2
      20. steareth-20
      21. steareth-21
      22. stearic acid
      23. vegetable oil
      24. vitamin A palmitate


Note: some of these are oils/derivatives that may be palm oil or may be derived from other oils


Sustainable vs. NON-Sustainable

Photo of river wtih palm plantation scene in Indonesia

The WAY Palm Oil is Grown Makes all the Difference.

  • Palm oil plantations and mills that are certified as sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have met many criteria to achieve certification.
  • Palm oil plantations and mills that are NOT certified as sustainable by the RSPO do not have to adhere to RSPO regulations. Therefore, consumers can’t be sure whether or not the palm oil coming from non-RSPO producers has harmed native wildlife, violated the rights of indigenous people, or had other negative environmental impacts.


Outcomes of Palm Oil Plantation Practice Choices



Clear-cutting rainforest when there is degraded land available for palm oil plantations.

Harming orangutans and other wildlife that enter palm oil plantations.

Using chemicals such as pesticides safely and responsibly.

Ensuring that plantation employees and their families have adequate housing, schools, healthcare, and a decent wage.

Monitoring greenhouse gas emissions in mills and disposing of waste responsibly.

Using the land as productively as possible. This includes using all the loose palm fruits that fall to the ground, and quickly replacing any plants that die.

*Getting HCV (high conservation value) assessments done on their land.


*HCV assessment is conducted in order to make sure that a plantation is not cutting down forest where endangered species live or taking away land with social significance from indigenous people to plant oil palm.

Please note: This is a very simplified explanation of certified sustainable palm oil.  For more information go to


Impacts on Local People

Understand how palm oil farming affects indigenous people.

Indonesian boy photoThe increase in demand for palm oil has far-reaching implications for the indigenous people of Borneo and Sumatra.

  • Palm oil is a huge industry, employing millions of people.  On certified sustainable plantations and mills the workers have decent housing and wages; schools and health clinics are also available.  At plantations and mills that are NOT certified, conditions for workers and their families are not regulated.
  • Native people often lose their land and livelihoods to large palm oil manufacturers. Most of the money from non-sustainably produced palm oil does not trickle down to local people.
  • Local people can and should be trained in environmentally sustainable agriculture, reforestation techniques, ecotourism, and other sustainable trades, crafts and professions.  This is happening in some areas which is very exciting.

Rainforest, Wildlife and Biodiversity

Learn what’s happening to the orangutans’ habitat.

    • Indonesia is facing the highest rate of tropical rain forest loss in the world.
    • There are millions of acres of degraded land available that could be used for palm oil plantations.  Instead, many companies choose to use high conservation value rainforests in order to gain the additional timber profits.
    • Sumatra has 201 mammal species, 580 birds, 217 reptiles, over 70 amphibians, 272 fish and 15,000 plant species.  Flagship species include elephants, rhinos, orangutans and tigers.

Hornbill in Indonesia photo

  • Borneo has 222 species of mammals, 420 birds, 180 reptiles, 150 amphibians, 394 fish, and 15,000 plants.  Borneo is home to orangutans, elephants, clouded leopards, proboscis monkeys, sun bears, and hornbills.
  • A major problem facing many of these species is habitat fragmentation.  Some conservationists are analyzing and attempting to acquire land in areas where reforestation can create forested corridors between areas of isolated habitat.

Orangutan Facts

Examine the plight of the Indonesian orangutans.

photo of orangutan in Indonesia

  • Borneo and Sumatra are the only islands in the world where wild orangutans exist.
  • Orangutans give birth once every 6-10 years, the longest inter-birth interval of any mammal, resulting in a slow reproductive rate.
  • They are the largest arboreal mammal on earth, and the only Asian great ape.
  • Orangutans are amazingly intelligent.
    • They create and use tools.
    • Orangutans memorize intricate maps in the rainforest of how to move to fruiting trees at the proper times when the fruit is ripe, and without needing to descend to the ground (as long as they live in healthy intact forests).
    • Orangutan researchers have observed evidence of cultural transmission of behavior.  Orangutans in different geographical areas will have different methods of doing similar behaviors, or will display unique behaviors that are not seen in other orangutan populations.
  • Extinction for these great apes could be just around the corner if the palm oil industry, deforestation, and burning of peat forest do not change.

Biofuel Facts

Discover why we shouldn’t use palm oil for biofuel.

photo of wild orangutan in IndonesiaSome have proposed that palm oil be used as a source of biofuel to decrease greenhouse gasses and mitigate global warming.  This strategy would further increase the demand for palm oil—and cause further destruction of orangutan habitat.

In addition, using palm oil for biofuel could produce the opposite effect on green house gasses and global warming. That’s because:

  • Rainforests remove massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • When palm oil is produced through deforestation, the burning peat soil and loss of rainforest causes an increase in greenhouse gasses, which contributes to global warming.
  • Demanding fuel-efficient vehicles and enabling the majority of consumers to afford them may be a better environmental direction for solving the energy crisis.



What is Being Done?

Learn about the RSPO – The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

Photo of sustainable palm oil plantation in Indonesia

  • The RSPO is a multi-stakeholder group with many members from palm oil growers and producers to businesses, social organizations, conservation NGOs and government institutions.
  • The RSPO was formed in 2004 in response to the urgent and pressing global call for sustainably produced palm oil.
  • Objective of the RSPO: promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders.
  • Companies who are members of the RSPO are required to abide by RSPO principles and guidelines.
  • The seat of the association is in Zurich, Switzerland, while the secretariat is currently based in Kuala Lumpur with a satellite offi­ce in Jakarta.
  • In November 2007, the RSPO launched a certification system, establishing a definition and criteria for certified sustainable palm oil.
  • We believe it is critical for consumers to support the RSPO’s efforts, and show consumer preference for products made by RSPO members, and ultimately demand certified sustainable palm oil.
  • Visit to learn more about certified sustainable palm oil.

YOU Can Make a Difference!

Wild orangutan in Indonesia photoIf you are concerned about the effects of NON-sustainable palm oil production on orangutan habitat,
we encourage you to:

  • Shop responsibly.  Use this Palm Oil Shopping App (available in Google Play or the App Store) when you go to the store.  Support companies that have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). 
  • Use your power as a consumer!
    • Write to your favorite restaurants and companies.  Let them know that you care about orangutans and the environment, and that your concern is reflected in products you are willing to buy.  Ask them to join the RSPO if they haven’t done so already.  We have a sample letter you can use and a send a letter page with hyperlinks to non-RSPO companies’ contact information.
    • Promote better labeling.  Encourage RSPO companies to label  products
      with the RSPO trademark, just like the “Dolphin Safe” tuna labeling.  Ask them to indicate how much (%) of the palm oil is certified sustainable.
    • Ask them to use only 100% segregated certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) that is deforestation-free in their products.

RSPO logo for sustainable palm oil

  • Go see wild orangutans.  Your tourist dollars make the rainforests worth more standing than cut down for plantations.  Check out Ecotourism.
  • Learn more.  Spread the word.  Send the link for our video Make a Difference for Wild Orangutans to your friends and family.
  • Write to your local legislators and The President.  Ask them not to explore palm oil as a biofuel option.  Cutting down rainforests to grow palm oil is not a “green” substitute for gasoline.
  • Write to Indonesian and Malaysian government officials.  Ask them to preserve their precious natural resources.  They are the only countries in the world that have wild orangutans!
  • Help with reforestation projects.  Go to for more information.
  • Buy Orangutan Art – 50% of each purchase goes to orangutan conservation.

Get involved today and remember, each person CAN make a difference!
Demand 100% Segregated Certified Sustainable Palm Oil that is deforestation-free, and Product Labeling.

Make a Difference for Wild Orangutans.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo releases all information on this web page into the public domain in an effort to promote the timely dissemination of knowledge surrounding palm oil. This applies worldwide. In some countries this may not be legally possible; if so: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.