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.”