Monday, January 13, 2014

Palm Oil Company fined Millions as Indonesian Court delivers historic ruling against illegal destruction of Tripa Peat Swamp Forests.

Indonesian courts have found palm oil company PT Kallista Alam guilty of illegally burning forests within peat swamps. The ruling is a huge milestone for those working to protect native wildlife within the peat swaps, and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s palm oil team is excited for this legal precedent to be set. Read the full story below. 

January 9th, 2014
[Banda Aceh / Indonesia] Setting a landmark new precedent, Indonesian courts yesterday found palm oil company PT Kallista Alam guilty of illegally burning forests within the Tripa Peat Swamps, part of the  protected Leuser Ecosystem, resulting in a fine of 114 billion Rupiah, approximately 9 million US dollars.  
“This is a clear message to companies working in Aceh who think they can destroy protected forests and get away with it” said Muhammad Nur, Chairman of WALHI Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia).
According to Senior Judge, Rahmawati SH, PT Kallista Alam was found in breach of National Law No 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management, for illegal use of fire to clear forests, and ordered to pay Rupiah 114.3 billion (approx. USD 9.5 million) as compensation and Rupiah 251.7 billion (almost 21 USD million) for restoration of the affected forests.
Kamaruddin, a lawyer working with communities in the Tripa region reiterated, “This decision should serve as a wake up call to any company thinking of investing within the Leuser Ecosystem, a National Strategic Area, that they could suffer the same fate as PT Kallista Alam. It should also be a reminder to others who deliberately burn forests or allow forest burning within their concessions, regardless of whether or not they are working inside the Ecosystem’s boundaries, that they could also be prosecuted. The Judge’s decision in this case clearly illustrates a move towards improved law enforcement against environmental offenders in the region.” He added.
The company, PT Kallista Alam, first came to international attention in August 2011, when former Governor of Aceh Province, Irwandi Yusuf, issued a new 1,605 ha oil palm concession permit within the legally protected Leuser Ecosystem, an area renowned for hosting the highest densities of orangutans found anywhere on earth, sparking an international outcry.
Subsequently, over 1.5 million people signed online petitions calling for greater protection of Aceh’s Forests, currently under enormous threat due to a controversial new spatial planning law issued by Aceh’s Parliament on December 27th. These petitions are further supported by some of the world’s leading scientists and conservation experts, who have written to Aceh’s present Governor, Zaini Abdullah, urging him to nominate the Leuser Ecosystem as a World Heritage Site, due to its unique and irreplaceable biodiversity. The Leuser Ecosystem is the only place on earth where tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans can be found living together in the wild and was listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as one of the ‘World’s Most Irreplaceable Protected Areas’ in an article in the journal Science, in November 2013.
Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutran Conservation Programme, highlighted the critical importance of the area. “Tripa is one of only 3 remaining peat swamp forests left containing orangutans in Sumatra and its impossible to overstate the importance of protecting every last hectare of each of them. Orangutan densities can reach as high as 8 per square kilometer in these areas, compared to an average of around only 1 or 2 per square kilometer in dryland forests. These peat swamps have justifiably been referred to as the ‘orangutan capital of the world’. The Leuser Ecosystem too, offers the only real hope of survival for Sumatra’s other key iconic megafauna, the Sumatran tiger, rhino and elephant, as well as its orangutans. Yesterday’s ruling is of course extremely welcome, but the level of interest in Tripa and the Leuser Ecosystem worldwide shows clearly just how seriously concerned the international community is right now about  the fate of these forests and their globally important biodiversity”, he emphasised.
“The Leuser Ecosystem provides countless locally and globally important environmental services too”, explained Graham Usher, Landscape Protection Specialist with the Swiss based PanEco Foundation. “For Aceh alone these have been valued in excess of 400 million dollars per year, and the region’s contribution to mitigating climate change, through its carbon sequestration function probably stretches into billions of dollars. It is very encouraging that companies and decision makers destroying these services in Indonesia are finally being held accountable for the economic damage their illegal activities cause, and all credit is due to the Ministry of the Environment for their efforts in prosecuting this case. The court’s decision is indeed a huge victory, and represents one significant step in the right direction. But I think many more such steps are needed before we will really see a change in the behaviour of companies and officials.” added Usher.
“Aceh’s Parliament is right now pushing a new spatial land use plan which they recently legalised with a new Provincial Government Regulation, known locally as the Qanun RTRW Aceh”. Explained Muhammad Nur. “The Qanun completely ignores the protected status of the Leuser Ecosystem, simply so they can open up large areas of protected forests for road building, mining, palm oil and timber concessions. This will, in effect, end Aceh’s chances for long-term sustainable development, as it will cause further destruction of critical watersheds, leading to ever more frequent flash floods, landslides, and other environmental disasters. The companies lobbying for this new plan, and the Aceh Government themselves, should be held accountable for all the damage that will ensue. We hope yesterday’s result will serve as a strong warning that if you destroy our forests, we are not afraid to fight back” he stressed. “We thank the judge for delivering a just and fair verdict in this case, and all the people around the world who have been calling for enforcement of National Laws protecting the Leuser Ecosystem. This will be a long battle, but it is one we simply cannot afford to lose, no matter what the cost.” He concluded.
Yesterday’s groundbreaking verdict is the result of just one of several civil and criminal prosecutions underway against PT Kallista Alam and four other oil palm companies with concessions in Tripa, namely  PT. Surya Panen Subur II, PT. Dua Perkasa Lestari, PT. Gelora Sawita Makmur and PT. Cemerlang Abadi. Each faces the possibility of serious financial consequences as a result of their illegal clearance, burning and drainage of Tripa’s unique peat swamp ecosystem. Some of the company Directors and senior management also face the prospect of prison terms in cases against them for their actions on the ground.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Traveling to Indonesia: Part Two

We are now well rested and caught up from being gone for over two weeks, but we wanted to share a few highlights from the rest of our November Indonesia trip.

Dina planting a tree at OIC.

Our first stop during this portion of the trip was near Besitang.  We visited an area that once was clear cut for palm oil trees and has since been reclaimed for reforestation. The reforestation site has changed greatly since we last saw it two years ago; it has been mostly left alone to grow, and the trees are getting tall!  Due to the success of this site, reforestation efforts have now grown and moved to nearby areas. The project is run by an organization called OIC (Orangutan Information Centre).  OIC staff has reported seeing elephants and orangutans using the reforested area, which is a true sign of success for this project.

Tracey planting a tree at OIC.

We were lucky that the timing of our visit to the reforestation site allowed us to see drone technology being used to help monitor deforestation. Researchers are programming drones (Styrofoam airplanes that are about four feet long) with GPS, grid routes, and cameras built in to map and monitor forest areas. They are also using the drones to count orangutan nests (to gather population data) and check for forest encroachment, deforestation and fires. We were able to watch drones take off and talk with the researchers involved with the drone project, which was very educational.  Learn more about conservation drones at:

Drone plane about to take off.

Our next destination was Bukit Lawang. There we saw five wild Sumatran orangutans – two mothers, two older offspring and one baby. The most exciting sighting was spotting a mother, – who we’ve been able to observe on two previous trips to Sumatra. Her daughter, Catherine, was also with her. This area –Bukit Lawang –is very important because it is the most successful ecotourism area involving the Gunung Leuser National Park.  Unfortunately there has been encroachment in many other areas of the park, but there has been almost no encroachment of the original park boundaries near Bukit Lawang.  This is most likely because the local people have economic incentive to keep the forest and ecosystem intact.


The highlight of our trip to Indonesia, and our next stop, was a visit to an orangutan reintroduction site in Jantho, north Aceh which was established by SOCP (Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme).  Many of the orangutans that are released at Jantho had lost their homes due to deforestation and non-sustainable palm oil production.  After spending time in a quarantine and rehabilitation center the healthy orangutans are released at sites like Jantho.  The project’s base camp was in a very remote area, so it was about a 1.5 hour 4-wheel drive adventure just getting there.  On a forest hike at the release site, we saw two juvenile orangutans very high up in a tree and were glad to see that they had no interest in coming down to see us.  This was living proof that they are thriving and are not reliant on humans.  We also saw a variety of other wildlife around camp such as wild pigs, long-tailed macaques, a family of four white-handed gibbons, fruit bats and hornbills flying overhead, and Sumatran tiger tracks! 

Sumatran tiger footprint in Jantho.

Upon returning to Medan, Indonesia, we were able to tour the location where a really exciting conservation project will be created in the next several years: Orangutan Haven.  Not only will it provide a more natural home for non-releasable orangutans, but it will also be a wonderful place for Indonesians to make a connection with these critically endangered great apes and hopefully inspire them to take action to save them.  To learn more, visit

On the last day of our trip we met with a sustainability specialist from a palm oil company that is very involved with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We talked about the reforestation and sustainability practices of the large company he works for, and the logistics of being on an RSPO task force.  We hope to get more involved in the RSPO by joining a working group or task force.

Harvesting fruit bunches.

During our journey we accomplished several of our goals – voting at the RSPO General Assembly which included a very important resolution on requiring palm oil growers to map their plantations boundaries. This resolution, which was passed, is very important because it keeps RSPO grower members accountable for activities that happen on their land and ensures they are not expanding beyond their property boundaries. (i.e. National forest).  We were able to discuss important sustainability topics with other Zoos and environmental conservation organizations as well as representatives from the palm oil industry from various points along the supply chain. We visited reforestation sites, saw wild orangutans and furthered our knowledge of certified and non-certified palm oil plantations. Upon returning to Colorado, we are continuing our mission to inform Zoo guests about the importance of supporting RSPO plantations, companies and manufacturers by purchasing their products. To download the sustainable palm oil Smartphone application, or to learn more about the palm oil crisis, visit

Monday, December 23, 2013

World’s Largest Palm Oil Company Commits to No Deforestation

We are excited that Wilmar International has committed to producing only products that are deforestation free and void of links to human rights abuse. We look forward to seeing further progress in the palm oil industry in the near future and hope additional companies will make the same pledge. Read the full story about Wilmar’s commitment below. 

World’s Largest Palm Oil Company Commits to No Deforestation

By: Kim Lewis

A new policy that looks to transform the palm oil industry was recently announced.  Asia’s leading palm oil producer, Wilmar International, said it has committed to producing only products that are free from links to deforestation and abuse of human rights.  Palm oil is a $50-billion a year commodity that is found in half of all consumer goods. It is in chocolate, baked goods, soaps, detergents, and many more household items.  The production of it has caused the clearing of tropical forests for plantations, threatening ecological systems as well as forest animals.

In addition clearing land for plantations has threatened the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on forests for survival.

Scott Poynton, is a forest conservationist and supply chain expert.  He founded the international nonprofit, The Forest Trusts, TFT, an organization that works with businesses to help them produce more responsibly.He said the announcement by Wilmar International is a massive one and a huge commitment that will take a lot of work to implement.

“There’s never been such a strong commitment in the palm oil industry before, and not only in the palm oil industry, but in the agribusiness sector such as soy, or beef, or any of these sectors.  There’s never been an announcement equivalent to this.  So it’s really of global significance,” explained Poynton. 

The forest conservationist highlighted that the commitment to “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation, No High Carbon Stock…” sets a benchmark for the entire industry, which includes palm plantations in Africa.

“The Wilmar International is the largest palm oil company in the world, and controls about 45% of the global trade in palm oil.  Wilmar itself has interests in Africa, and one of the responses to the announcement has been some concern expressed by some civil society organizations, NGO’s, however, Wilmar's response is look we are going to roll out these policies across our global operation base which includes Africa,” said Poynton, who added this is good news for Africa because there is interest in expanding palm oil production on the continent.

“Palm oil is an opportunity to bring in socio-economic development but we want to do that without trashing and destroying the environment, or people’s lives,” pointed out Poynton.  And he said the transformative policies to protect forests and people will help ensure that any new development that comes about will be done in the right way.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Your signature is needed!

Help save the majority of remaining lowland forests in Aceh, Indonesia---the last few strongholds for the Sumatran tiger, elephant, rhino and orangutan. Please click on the link (, and let the government of Aceh know that is important to save the Leuser Ecosystem and the endangered species that call it home!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Update from Indonesia on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Annual Conference

By Dina Bredahl and Tracey Gazibara

Batu Mblein Quarantine Center
After thirty-four hours of traveling, we arrived in Medan, Indonesia on Sunday morning, November 10.  Our reason for traveling half way around the world was to attend the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) annual conference along with over 600 delegates from countries all over the world.

Before beginning the conference on Tuesday, we were able to meet with Dr. Ian Singleton with Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) and visit Batu Mbelin quarantine center where nearly 50 orangutans are being cared for. Many of the orangutans have been confiscated as they were being held illegally as pets. We were excited to hear that several of the orangutans would be on their way to be re-released into the wild next week.

Dina, Darrel Webber and Tracey at the RSPO.
Our goal for this conference was to interact with other stakeholders to further our work with palm oil sustainability.  The keynote address given by Professor Tim Benton was titled The Challenge of Food Security in 2050: Can we do it Sustainably?  It was a detailed look at global climate change, population growth projections and how agriculture and deforestation now will affect our future dramatically.  It was very apparent that the success of the RSPO is critical on many levels. 

Group session at the RSPO conference.
The format of this conference was quite unconventional, open space technology was used to encourage anyone to take ‘ownership’ of an issue they cared about and invite any and all interested attendees to join the conversation.  We facilitated a discussion on ‘How can zoos positively transform the market?’ along with others from San Diego Zoo, Zoos Victoria and the Zoological Society of London.  We were happy to have representatives from the growers stakeholder group participate in our session to learn more about their needs.  We also joined in on other great topic discussions as well, and really learned a lot about the perspectives of others during this process.

Voting on resolutions at the RSPO.
We are getting ready for the next leg of our travels, visiting Besitang and Bukit Lawang to see RSPO certified and non-certified plantations, a reforestation site, and a successful eco-tourism location where we hope to see orangutans. A representative from OIC (Orangutan Information Centre) will be our guide.  We will be traveling with Adam Ringler of San Diego Zoo and Jacquie O’Brien of Zoos Victoria.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Three US Zoos Take Leadership Role in Supporting Sustainable Palm Oil Practices

As part of an effort to encourage sustainable palm oil production, San Diego Zoo Global, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the Indianapolis Zoo joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and will attend the RSPO conference (RT11) in Indonesia next week. During the conference, the zoos’ representatives will be involved in strategic planning and reviewing of RSPO criteria for certification. Additionally, they will visit RSPO-certified and noncertified palm oil plantations to further their knowledge of industry sustainable and nonsustainable practices.

“Palm oil is used in more than 50% of the manufactured items we find in the grocery store every day,” said Allison Alberts, Ph.D., chief conservation and research officer for San Diego Zoo Global’s Institute of Conservation Research. “The largest threat to orangutans and other tropical wildlife around the globe is deforestation due to agriculture, primarily the production of palm oil.”

The zoos’ memberships in the RSPO add to a growing movement among zoos to become an active voice in the palm oil crisis. Last month, a resolution was unanimously passed at the 68th annual conference of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) in support of the RSPO and encourages all zoos to promote certified sustainable palm oil.

"The vision of the RSPO -- to drive the sustainable palm oil agenda forward to protect our environment, wildlife and communities -- is a transformative journey that involves the cooperation of an extensive group of players," said the RSPO's secretary-general, Darrel Webber. “We welcome the San Diego, Cheyenne Mountain and Indianapolis zoos, whose combined annual visitors exceed 7.5 million, to the RSPO and look forward to working closely with them in helping to educate the broader community about the need to support the sustainable production of palm oil," Webber added.

Conservationists point to the increasing challenges faced by wildlife in Asia and particularly to the effect of palm oil production on high profile species like Sumatran and Bornean orangutans.

“The current generation of wild orangutans could well be the last unless we can find workable solutions for the Indonesian economy, its government and the orangutans,” said Rob Shumaker, Ph.D., the Indianapolis Zoo’s vice president of conservation and life sciences and one of the world’s foremost authorities on orangutan cognition. “RSPO and programs focused on the reforestation of orangutan habitat are critically important to saving orangutans in the wild.”

The Indianapolis Zoo will open a $25 million International Orangutan Center in May 2014.

In 2010, nearly 90% of global palm oil production occurred in Malaysia and Indonesia, and more than half of plantations established since 1990 in those two countries have occurred at the expense of natural forest.  Species like orangutans depend on the Asian forests for survival.  Conservationists estimate that over the last 60 years more than half of all orangutans in these countries have disappeared. The decline of the species is predicted to continue at this rate, primarily because of forest loss.

“By joining the RSPO we are leading by example and are encouraging other North American zoos to make this same commitment,” said Tracey Gazibara, vice president, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. “Together we can raise awareness about the complex issues surrounding palm oil production and fight against extinction of animals and habitats created by unsustainable practices.”

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Palm oil smart phone app helps users save orangutans

By Stephanie Earls. Published by The Gazette - Colorado Springs
(The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
What do Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey, Palmolive dish soap and Friskies cat food have in common?

The answer is sustainable palm oil. 

Palm oil might be the most prevalent product ingredient you've never heard of. 

It's estimated that the edible vegetable oil in its various manifestations can be found in as many as half of the processed foods and packaged products in grocery stores, from snack foods to cosmetics, but that doesn't mean you'll find it listed by name among the ingredients. The highly saturated, trans fat-free oil, harvested from African oil palm trees on plantations in the tropics, is a main component in many preparations of sodium laureth and sodium lauryl sulfates, present in makeup and pretty much every product that foams, from shampoo to dish soap. 

The majority of palm oil is grown and produced on the southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, where natural resources have been leveraged to the industry. Clear-cutting of rainforests to make way for new plantations to meet rising global demands continues to destroy vital habitats for indigenous, endangered animals. 

These animals include the wild orangutan, Asia's only great ape, which makes its home exclusively on Borneo and Sumatra.

"Non-sustainable palm oil is the biggest threat to so many of these species. It's not just orangutans who are affected. It's other animals. It's humans. It's greenhouse gases," said Dina Bredahl, animal care manager for primates and carnivores at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. "We chose orangutans as our focus because we love orangutans. I think for our zoo, they are the best ambassador." 

In its most recent project to raise palm oil awareness, the zoo has developed a smart phone app that helps users choose products containing sustainably produced palm oil. 

The free Palm Oil Shopping Guide app, a digital upgrade of the zoo's paper palm oil shopping guide, includes more than 5,000 products from companies certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an international membership organization that works toward environmentally conscious production of the substance. 

The app, available on Google Play, lets users quickly search for products by name; there's also an alphabetized list of items arranged by category, information on the palm oil crisis and a button for donations. 
(The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
"Humans are going to keep buying and using these products that have vegetable oil in them. We're not going to stop that, and the population of the Earth is growing all the time," lead animal keeper Mandy Hester said. "Palm oil can actually be a better product for the environment if it's grown sustainably because you can get a lot more yield from palm. If it's done the right way, it can actually be a greener product than some other vegetable oils." 

Sustainable palm oil comes from trees grown on land that historically has been used for plantations, rather than a site freshly razed for the purpose. 

"There is land available that was cleared so long ago, that is the land that ideally should be used," Hester said. "But they can actually get more profits from clearing timber because they can then sell the wood for picture frames, furniture, paper." 

Bredahl has been working on the zoo's palm oil campaign since 2007, when she found a dearth of information on the subject and set about to help change that - for Cheyenne Mountain and the greater zoo community. 

"It's kind of been on our radar that there was this thing called palm oil. When you tried to look it up, it wasn't clear what the connection between orangutans and palm oil was," Bredahl said. "People in zoos weren't sure what to tell zoo guests about palm oil. We decided, well, somebody needs to get a handle on that and someone needs to be an expert and we decided to be that expert." 

In 2008, the zoo launched a website explaining palm oil and its devastating impact on wildlife in the areas where it's produced. Also that year came the zoo's Quarters for Conservation program, which allows guests to donate 25 cents from the entrance fee to one of six conservation programs. Money from that campaign helped fuel an ambitious fact-finding mission for Bredahl and Hester, who in 2010 traveled to Southeast Asia for a three-week trip touring rain forests and sustainable plantations and talking with environmental groups and locals about the issue. 
(The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
"We came back and made a resource kit for other zoos to use, we revamped our (paper) shopping guide and revamped our website," Hester said. "It's pretty much about choices. Plantations can choose to grow palm oil in a sustainable way, companies can choose to buy palm oil from those sustainable plantations and consumers can choose to buy products from those companies." 

In 2011, Cheyenne Mountain became the first zoo in the world to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Others have followed suit. 

"Zoos years ago weren't necessarily conservation organizations," Bredahl said. "Fifty years ago, it was more of the menagerie and sharing animals. Now, it's more about sharing animals so people fall in love with them and want to save them in the wild."