Dispelling the myths about orangutans

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Environmentalists often invoke endangered animals as mascots for their causes – if you don’t meet their demands, the puppy gets it. Global warming campaigners used the polar bear, despite no conclusive evidence that global warming would endanger the bear, and campaigners against palm oil plantations in the tropics have followed suit with the orangutan.

In our new report by analyst Keith Boyfield, Dispelling the myths: Palm oil and the environmental lobby (PDF), we take a closer look at the claims of environmentalist groups about the plight of the orangutan. Rather than palm oil plantations eating into the orangutan’s habitat, as is commonly thought, the growth of palm oil has largely taken place at the expense of other crops. Claims that these plantations threaten the great ape are largely unfounded.

Boyfield explores some of the conflicts of interest that the environmental lobby – quick to accuse its opponents of being in the pockets of big business – may have. Being recipients of millions of pounds in state funding, groups like Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Foundation have every interest in spreading disinformation to apply political pressure to the government.

The orangutan’s habitat is very small and limited, as Boyfield explains. If environmentalist groups are serious about preserving the orangutan, they would do well to use the institutions of private property to fundraise and buy the land on which these apes live to create nature reserves. The palm oil industry may not be a threat to the creature, but it is certainly worth protecting against other threats.