Palm Oil and Wild Animals: a Deadly Connection

It may be a surprise or a well know fact to you: palm oil is a direct threat to wild animals. This is because this oil is cheap and widely used in products you probably buy and use every day.

There is an explosion in demand for cheap palm, and that means clearing of pristine rainforest is accelerating.

Why is Palm a Threat to Wild Animal?

This is one of the most documented cases of destruction of wonderful pristine tropical forests to plant... a monoculture of palm.

During the clearing then burning of the forest, most animals are killed.

For the few ones that survive though, there isn't a much better outcome: deprived of their territory, the trees and shelters they knew, the knowledge they often acquired through their mum, they are lost.

Homeless animals are now left to fight the resident animals of the surrounding forests for their home.

These displaced wild animals will often die of starvation, get pushed out of the dwindling forest into farms and killed because they compete with locals villagers for food.

The palm monoculture that has now replace the beautiful tropical forest consists of the same tree, planted over and over again.

This is a problem because wildlife needs lots of different trees: they provide different food obviously, and with their different shapes (a bush, a tall broad tree with hollows...) they also create shelters for different wild animals.

The palm plantations create a homogeneous landscape which cannot provide food and shelter for a wide array of wildlife, as the complex rainforest does.

Thus the area is now lost for wild animals.


Tropical forest cleared to plant palm... Credits: Rainforest Action Network

How Serious Is the Threat to Wildlife?

Very serious!

  • Habitat clearing for palm plantations is considered the Number 1 Threat to wildlife in Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • In 2013, the area of 300 football fields of rainforest is being destroyed every hour.
  • 3.5 million ha of forest has been converted to palm oil in the past 20 years in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
  • On top of that, the cleared trees are wasted: they are burnt. This also release CO2 and contribute to climate change.
  • Areas of peatlands are converted to palm plantations, which release a disproportionately high amount of CO2 from peat fires and peat oxidation.
  • Other impacts are increased soil erosion and flooding; air, soil and water pollution; increased fire risk and loss of ecosystem services

The number of wild animal potentially threatened is huge!


400 land mammal species

15 critically endangered species

125 threatened species


300 land mammal species

6 critically endangered species

41 threatened species

Number of animal species threatened by the clearing of their habitat for palm oil

Wildlife directly endangered by the industry includes charismatic species such as:

  • orangutans,
  • rhinos (Asian rhinoceros and Sumatran rhinoceros),
  • Asian elephant,
  • Sumatran tiger
  • sun bear,
  • clouded leopard
  • proboscis monkey...

A Malaysian sun bear... Credits: Tom Friedel

But of course all the millions of less charismatic wildlife found in tropical forests suffer too. Some of this wildlife, we might lose before we even know it ever existed.

Orangutan population has been reduced by half in the last 10 years, and habitat loss due to palm plantations is a big part of it. Orangutans are only found in Indonesia and Malaysia, when they disappear from there, that’s it!

The palm industry also usually involve big businesses, that don’t always care about depriving indigenous landowners of their land to put their plantation. Thus this is a threat to wildlife and local people!

What Can You Do to Help Wildlife Facing the Palm Oil Threat?

Tell the industry you care: support certified sustainable palm plantations!

One available alternative is palm sourced from certified sustainable plantations. It’s called:

  • RSPO certified, standing for Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,


  • CSPO, standing for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.


Don't fall for "GreenPalm", this actually does not mean what you are about to buy did not destroy tropical forests nor killed orangutans.

It just mean people bought Palm Oil (whatever the production conditions) then compensated this by buying GreenPalm certificates - these certificates are linked to some other palm plantation that does apply the RSPO standards.

Basically, it's like the carbon credits: you buy your right to pollute from other, better companies.

RSPO / CSPO is a better choice because these plantations are not supposed to clear more pristine tropical forest: hopefully then, if we all buy RSPO certified no further clearing in tropical forest should happen.

RSPO / CSPO certified producers are also supposed to have “Better Management Practices” - although that hasn’t really translated in higher biodiversity so far…

Have you seen this green label? Keep looking!

We as consumers have the power to influence companies that use palm to buy certified sustainable products. This is a first step, one that tell the industry we care about the plantations' impacts.

Half of the products we buy in the supermarket actually contain palm, therefore our power is enormous.

Think ice cream, bread, biscuits, chocolate, chips, sandwich spreads, instant noodles, toothpaste, shower cream, shampoo: yep, they all got it.

There is a WWF classification of brands that use palm products. Here are some examples:

Good brands:

  • The Body Shop,
  • ASDA (Walmart),
  • Marks & Spencer.

Bad brand:

  • ALDI Nord,
  • Lidl,
  • SuperGros,
  • Tradeka.

See the WWF palm sustainability classification of retailers and manufacturers on their website for many more brands.

Ask the companies you like: "Are you using sustainable palm?"

It is often hard to see when you buy a product whether it does have RSPO certified palm or not.

One thing you can do is write to your favourite brand  - the one you buy already for other reasons: because it is animal cruelty free, in bio-pack, locally produced, organic - and ask them: "Are you using sustainable palm?"

If they don’t already use RSPO certified products, they probably will if enough of their customers inquire about it.

When they answer back to you, check two things:

  • that they use the words RSPO certified (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) or CSPO (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil), which are the real deal,
  • that they say 100% of our palm oil is RSPO or CSPO, and not some less clear phrasing - many companies only use a little bit of sustainable palm oil to look good.

RSPO palm oil is not perfect (but it's better than nothing)

The biggest problem with RSPO is that it relies on self reporting - thus it is very much opened to greedy companies abusing the system. Also RSPO is said to fail to act when companies breach the principles...

One last problem with RSPO: the RSPO certified oil is often mixed with dodgy oil, which means many products that use the green logo RSPO actually also have oil that is grown by destroying pristine forests...

Which should make us wonder, should we really trust RSPO to solve the problem?

There is a lot of debate on whether RSPO certification is indeed protecting rainforest enough now... but many Non for Profit organizations are working hard to make RSPO certification truly sustainable for wildlife - for the future.

So, our position on palm oil?

At least try to avoid it for the time being, until the industry has done a better job in telling us what is truly sustainable or not.

Influence food companies to change oil: it’s better for you anyway!

Many times we can see a parallel: what has a negative impact on wildlife is usually bad for you too.

Look at using chemicals like detergent or insecticides (toxic for the environment and inside your house), eating too much meat (unhealthy for you and the environment) or wildlife roadkill that can also put you in the hospital...

Well here’s another one: palm oil is bad for wildlife because it destroy their rainforest, and it is also bad for your health:

  • it is high in bad fat (saturated fat) which increases risks of clogged arteries, heart disease and obesity,
  • it is low in better fat (polyunsaturated fat) which lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease.

The demand for palm oil is forecast to double by 2020. Can you imagine what that means?

It might mean a world with no more wild orangutans…

So avoid consuming palm oil in packaged food, and if your favourite cookie or ice cream contains it, write to the company to show you care. If enough of us demand it, there is heaps of choice for them to switch to a healthier oil full of the good fat such as Olive oil, Canola or Sunflower oil…

How do You Know You Are Not Eating Palm Oil?

It is actually much more difficulty than you would think...

Look at the ingredient list of packaged products in your supermarket and avoid these main palm terms:

  • Palm oil kernel
  • “Palmitate” or “Palmate”
  • Elaeis gunieensis
  • Hydrated Palm Gylcerides Hexadecanoic
  • Palmitic Acid
  • Vegetable oil: if they don’t say which one, it’s because they are not proud of it! You can bet it’s palm oil!!

Sadly big brands are clever: they will use tens of different names for palm oil and its derivatives, so we don't know what we buy...

We need palm oil to be labelled!

We can make it happen: please search for petitions already existing for labeling palm oil in your country - or if there isn't a petition already, create one at

Look at the list below, how amazing that they use so many names? No one can know all these names by heart...

Acetic and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472a/E472a)

Alkyl Poly Glucoside

Aluminium stearate

Aluminium, calcium, sodium, magnesium salts of fatty acids (470/E470a; E470b)

Ammonium laureth sulphate

Ammonium lauryl sulphate

Arachamide mea

Ascorbyl palmitate

Ascorbyl palmitate (304)

Azelaic acid

Butyl stearate   

Calcium lactylate

Calcium oleyl lactylate

Calcium stearate

Calcium stearoyl lactylate (482/E482)

Capric triglyceride

Caprylic acid

Caprylic / Capric Glycerides   

Caprylic triglyceride

Caprylic/capric triglyceride

Caprylic/capric/stearic triglyceride

Capryloyl glycine

Caprylyl glycol

Carotene (Sometimes made from palm)

Castile soap (often from palm)    

Ceteareth (2-100)

Cetearyl alcohol

Cetearyl ethylhexanote

Cetearyl glucoside

Cetearyl isononanoate



Cetyl acetate

Cetyl alcohol

Cetyl ethylhexanoate

Cetyl hydroxyethylcellulose

Cetyl lactate

Cetyl octanoate

Cetyl palmitate

Cetyl ricinoleate

Citric and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472c/E472c)

Cocoa butter equivalent (CBE)

Cocoa butter substitute (CBS)

Decyl Glucoside   

Decyl oleate

Diacetyltartaric and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472e/E472e)

Dilinoleic acid

Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate

Disodium lauryl sulfosuccinate

Distilled Monoglyceride Palm

Elaeis guineensis oil

Emulsifier 422, 430-36, 470-8, 481-483, 493-5

Epoxidized palm oil (uv cured coatings)

Ethyl lauroyl arginate (243)

Ethylene glycol monostearate

Ethylhexyl hydroxystearate

Ethylhexyl Palminate   

Ethylhexyl palmitate

Ethylhexyl stearate


Fatty alcohol sulphates


Glycerin or glycerol (442)

Glyceryl distearate

Glyceryl laurate

Glyceryl monostearate

Glyceryl myristate

Glyceryl oleate

Glyceryl polymethacrylate

Glyceryl Rosinate    

Glyceryl stearate

Glyceryl stearate SE

Glycol distearate

Glycol stearate

Guineesis (palm)


Hexyl laurate


Humectant glycerol   

Hydrogenated palm glycerides   

Isopropyl isostearate

Isopropyl palmitate

Isopropyl titanium triisostearate

Isostearamide DEA

Isostearate DEA

Isostearic acid

Isostearyl alcohol

Lactic and fatty acid easters of glycerol (472b/E472b)

Lauramide DEA

Lauramide MEA

Lauramine oxide


Lauric acid

Lauroyl sarcosine

Lauryl betaine

Lauryl lactate

Lauryl glucoside (from palm)

Lauryl pyrrolidone

Linoleic acid

Magnesium myristate

Magnesium stearate

Mixed tartaric, acetic and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472f/E472f)

Mono-and- di-glycerides of fatty acids (471/E471)

Mono-glycerides of fatty acids   


Myristic acid

Myristic Cetrimonium Chloride Acid


Myristyl alcohol

Myristyl myristate

Octyl palmitate

Octyl stearate

Octyldodecyl myristate

Octyldodecyl stearoyl stearate

Oleamide MIPA

Oleic acid

Oleyl betaine

Palm fruit oil

Palm kernel oil

Palm oil

Palm olein

Palm stearine



Palmitic acid

Palmitamidopropyltrimonium chloride

Palmitoyl myristyl serinate

Palmitoyl oxostearamide

Palmitoyl oligopeptide

Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3

PEG-100 stearate

PEG-15 stearyl ether

PEG-150 distearate

PEG-2 oleamine

PEG-20 stearate

PEG-4 laurate

PEG-40 stearate

PEG-8 distearate

PEG-8 stearate

PEG-80 sorbitan laurate

Pentaerythrityl tetraisostearate

Peptide complex

Polyethylene (40) stearate (431)

Polyglycerol esters of fatty acids (475/E475)

Polyglycerol esters of interesterified ricinoleic acid (476/E476)

Polyglycerol-2 oleyl ether

Polyglyceryl-3 dilisostearate

Polyglyceryl-4 isostearate

Polyglyceryl-4 oleyl ether

Polysorbate 60 or polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monostearate (435/E435)

Polysorbate 65 or polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan tristearate (436/E436)

Polysorbate 80 or polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monoolate (433/E433)





Potassium stearate

PPG-15 stearate ether

Propylene glycol esters of fatty acids (477/E477)

Propylene glycol laurate

Propylene glycol stearate

Retinyl palmitate

Saponified elaeis guineensis




Sodium cetearyl sulphate

Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)

Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye

Sodium lactylate; sodium oleyl lactylate; sodium stearoyl lactylate (481/E481)

Sodium laurate

Sodium laurel

Sodium laureth sulfate

Sodium laureth sulphate

Sodium laureth-13 carboxylate

Sodium lauroyl lactylate

Sodium lauryl

Sodium lauryl ether sulphate

Sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate   

Sodium lauryl sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate

Sodium lauryl sulphate

Sodium palm kernelate

Sodium palmate

Sodium palmitate

Sodium stearate

Sodium stearoyl lactylate

Sorbitan isotearate

Sorbitan laurate

Sorbitan monostearate (491)

Sorbitan oleate

Sorbitan palmitate

Sorbitan sesquioleate

Sorbitan trioleate

Sorbitan tristearate

Sorbitan tristearate (492)

Stearalkonium chloride

Stearalkonium hectorite

Stearamide MEA

Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine





Stearic acid (vegetable oil)

Stearic acid or fatty acid (570)

Stearoyl sarcosine

Stearyl alcohol

Stearyl dimethicone

Stearyl heptanoate

Sucrose stearate

Sucroseesters of fatty acids (473/E473)


TEA-lauryl sulphate


Tocopheryl linoleate


Triacetin (1518)




Vegetable glycerin

Vegetable Oil

Zinc stearate

Alternate names for Palm Oil

You can thus only try to avoid products containing palm altogether...

There are lots of good people working on it though, with even an app being developed for your smart phone: it will help you identify products with or without palm when you are at the supermarket.

There are also facebook pages that identify products with palm oil and their alternative, safe to buy. Just search on the net: facebook palm oil "your country" to see whether there is a special facebook page on products in your country - there are some at least for USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Buy the tropical forest yourself

We need to act quick, there is not much time before we lose orangutans and other charismatic species.

A way to make sure a tropical forest will not be cut down for a palm plantation is to buy it and preserve it for wildlife.

This is what organisations such as The Orangutan Project or Orangutan Outreach are trying to do.

These are organisations usually focusing on orangutans rehabilitation and release as well as sanctuaries for the ones that can't live in the wild anymore, but they are also trying to get some money together to buy forests.

This might be our best short term bet to save orangutans and all other wildlife of these tropical forests...

Actions recap:

Talk about this! Use whatever you can: facebook, twitter, your email list... Share this information, make it known! We are running out of time on this issue...


Buy products that use certified sustainable palm oil (RSPO or CSPO)

Sign petitions to label properly all palm oil (to stop using the tens of alternative names to disguise it)

Call companies that produce your beloved products and ask them to use only sustainable palm or switch to another oil

Buy some tropical forests

Palm oil grows in tropical countries: it’s in direct competition with high diversity and pristine rainforest!

One of the most wildlife rich environments!

Palm oil is in grown demand because it’s used in many packaged food: we can pressure food and cosmetic companies to use certified sustainable products or switch to healthier oil for human consumption.

In the meantime, avoiding products containing palm oil might be the only way we can be sure we are not responsible for the clearing of tropical forests.