A Lesson from Dolphins for Orangutans by Tim L. Tetzlaff

Tim L. Tetzlaff, Director of Conservation, Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens

It’s March 1988. I was recently engaged, but my heart, like that of the nation’s, had just been broken by an appalling undercover video of dolphins struggling in tuna nets. In response, Congress passed the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act in 1990. Today as I approach my 35th wedding anniversary, I take the “dolphin-safe” logo on a tuna package for granted like the UL-tested logo that ensures my lamp won’t catch fire. But another fire is burning – and tragically few have noticed. Just like thousands of dolphins drowned back then to get our tuna salad until there was a public outcry, orangutans are dying today for everything from margarine to mascara from unsustainably produced palm oil. While the orangutans coming to Naples Zoo are safe, we’ve lost half the world’s orangutans in my lifetime. But until recently we had no idea which products helped extinguish those fires and which ones lit more matches. Today, there’s an app for that and we finally have the choice – and a voice.

A decade ago, the situation seemed hopeless. But first, if you’ve never heard of palm oil let alone certified sustainable palm oil, here’s the crash course. Without any fanfare, the African oil palm has become the world’s largest source of edible vegetable oil found in about half the processed products in the grocery store in everything from cookies, pizza, chocolate, potato chips, and bread to shampoo, lotion, cosmetics, and laundry soap. Too much of this came by burning down rainforests, both killing animals and affecting the health of local communities. Worse yet, palm oil can be labeled hundreds of ways and even if you could decipher the label, you wouldn’t know if it was produced sustainably or not.

Palm oil producers light the forests on
fire, to clear land for plantations.

But then came the PalmOil Scan app. Pioneered by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and currently produced in collaboration with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this resource allows you to choose your purchasing impact. By holding up your phone to a product’s barcode, you instantly get its rating to see the company’s commitment as determined by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The app also easily allows you to send a message of encouragement to companies for aligning with your ethics or to express your concern they have not yet committed to caring.

So now you know, please do not turn the page before downloading the free PalmOil Scan app on your phone from your app store. Please. Then you can show how this app works with your friends or send them this article or this link: napleszoo.org/palmoil. Collectively, we have the power of a ranger’s protection or a poacher’s bullet. With this app, I have hope now that the choice is finally ours. Please download and use the app to share that hope for orangutans – just like we did for dolphins.

FEATURED PHOTO: Orangutan Mother and Baby

Naples Zoo is a dues-paying member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Since 2014, Naples Zoo has invested over 3 million dollars in saving plants and animals in the wild and fully funds the annual salaries of 27 field staff in seven countries including two wildlife veterinarians.


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