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.”

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