We use palm oil almost every day. It’s in almost 50% of our packaged food, our cosmetics, and our biofuel. It grows in the tropics, with 86% produced in Malasia and Indonesia, and these plantations cause severe environmental damage. Clearing for these plantations destroys rainforests and homes of Indigenous people and animal species like tigers, elephants, rhinos, and the endangered orangutans.  And the demand for palm oil keeps growing. Animals get shot when they come too close to these plantations, including the mortally wounded and blinded orangutan mother and her child.
Blind Orangutan Mother Shot 74 Times
In 2019, the Human and Orangutan Conflict Response Unit discovered the injured Sumatran Orangutan with her malnourished baby at a palm oil plantation on the island of Sumatra. Someone had shot at the mother orangutan, severely blinding and wounding her. Rescuers rushed the pair to a quarantine center run by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. Tragically, the baby died on the way.
At the center, the mother orangutan’s x-ray results shocked the veterinarians on duty. They had found 74 air rifle pellets embedded in her body, including her eyes. She had many broken bones, including her collar bones. Some kind of sharp object had wounded her right arm.
“This orangutan, that we named Hope after thousand hopes for her future, is one of most tragic orangutans that we ever come across,” said the center in a statement. 
Immediately, the vets set to work on her broken arm and to remove the bullets. Despite all odds, she began to recover. She had lost her baby during its breastfeeding period, causing her extreme mental anguish. They didn’t know whether she would be able to return to her home in the wild.
“Sincerely speaking, we were very shocked by finding the result,” the information center said in a Facebook post. “74 air rifle bullets, damaged eyes, fractured bones, sharp tool wound and not to mention a deep traumatic condition, yet she doesn’t give up.”
Several days later, Dr. Andreas Messikommer flew in from Switzerland to lead the surgeons at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme in a four-hour operation to help the blind orangutan mother’s fractured bones.
Soon after, the decision about her future became definite. “Hopefully Hope can pass this critical period, but she cannot be released to the wild anymore,” said Dr. Yenny Saraswati.
Boycotting Palm Oil Products
As horrifying as the blinded orangutan mother’s case was, hers is one of many. In Indonesia, many people have shot orangutans and other animals to keep them away from their palm oil plantations. The vets at the center had treated over 15 orangutans in the past decade and had removed about 500 gun pellets. One orangutan from Borneo died after receiving 130 shots to its body. 
The orangutan population had declined heavily since 1999, largely due to human intervention — like logging and deforestation causing loss of habitat. Now, there are only 13,500 Sumatran orangutans and about 800 Tapanuli orangutans left in the wild.  The expansion of palm oil plantations is a huge threat to the species.  Additionally, thousands of orangutans die in palm oil concessions per year. That is a devastating and continuous loss to an already endangered species.
The good news is that there is a way to put a stopper in this horrifying trend. Boycotting products with palm oil sends a message to the industry that only thrives as long as there is a demand. Many people are unaware of how many of their products contain palm oil. This list is far from inclusive, but examples are:
- Ice cream
- Potato chips
- Peanut butter
- Frozen microwave dinners
As you purchase ready-made products, check the ingredients for palm oil. It’s surprising how often that ingredient appears.  Additionally, spread the word about the issue. Change has to start from somewhere, but it can start from anyone.
Stabilizing Orangutan Populations
Fortunately, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the orangutans’ population has stabilized. Overall, efforts to protect these creatures have been paying off. But not all orangutans are safe.
“While the orangutan population has stabilized in large forest areas, their numbers declined in forest patches within oil palm landscapes,” WWF said.
The enormous amounts of deforestation made these areas unable to support these species. Orangutan forests need to be protected for these animals to thrive. So the WWF recommends supporting products certified by the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO. The palm oil in these products wasn’t farmed through deforestation. 
- “Palm Oil.” WWF.
- “An Orangutan Named Hope Was Repeatedly Shot With an Air Rifle. She Was Blinded but Survived.” The New York Times. Liam Stack. March 18, 2019
- “A BLIND ORANGUTAN MOTHER WAS FOUND WITH 74 AIR GUN PELLETS IN HER BODY AT A PALM OIL PLANTATION.” Truth Theory. Mayukh Saha. March 22, 2019
- “Distribution.” Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.
- “Sumatran Orangutan.” IUCN Red List. October 16, 2017
- “Problems with Palm Oil.” Orangutan.org.
- “Orangutan numbers stable but palm oil still a threat.” BBC. July 18, 2019