Wild cat habitats destroyed through deforestation thanks to palm oil production and now electric vehicles

Wildcat habitats are under threat by ever expanding human activity and of all the habitats the one which is perhaps under the most threat is the forest. And there are a good number of wild cats that live in the forest. I’d like to look at that aspect of the demise of the wild cat and how through business callousness we are ridding the world of some of our most precious assets.

And the electric vehicle is not doing anything to improve the situation as mining for precious metals used in the huge EV batteries results in more deforestation and loss of precious habitat. EVs are meant to be good for the environment through reduced emissions but the manufacture of the cars needs to be factored in and when you do that a different picture is revealed.

ocelot peru by Smithsonian's National Zoo
Ocelot in its precious forest habitat.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

We love the car or most of us do. But it has caused a massive amount of chemical and noise pollution. In order to go on fuelling our cars the big international petrochemical companies are finding other ways than petrol (gas) or diesel to power cars. The current flavour of the month is palm oil (2012), which is added to diesel fuel. Palm oil has other uses too such as a component in food and as cooking oil.

palm oil deforestation greenpeace Rainforests are being destroyed to make palm oil, which is an alternative to diesel. At 2009, Indonesia and Malaysia produce about 87% of global demand. These are counties where there is rainforest. Some large petrochemical companies do not check on previous land use. So they disregard the fact that forest has been cut down to make way for oil palms. Palm oil is an edible plant oil derived from the fruit and kernels (seeds) of the oil palm.

It is meant to be good for the globe but the net result seems to be the opposite. Burning forest (to make way for palm oil) means CO² emissions. 20% of CO² emissions comes from deforestation in the tropics (The Times).

I don’t think the equation as to whether palm oil has a net benefit to the world in relation to CO² emissions has been worked out.

Palm oil can help to cut greenhouse gases if it is produced from sustainable sources which is often not the case at present. “Only 15% of palm comes from plantations that meet any kind of environmental standard”

And this ignores the enormous matter of the biodiversity that the rainforests bring to the world and for me the matter of the loss of the wild cat. Yes, they are almost forgotten in all of this. But a good number live in rainforests in Asia, Central America, South America and Africa where deforestation takes place to grow palm oil. These are countries where wild cats live in the forest. Here is a selection:

African Golden Cat

A large part of the African golden cat geographic range covers areas where palm oil is grown with associated deforestation. Some of the flags below spell out the deforestation of the African golden cat’s habitat. See a bigger map and more on the range of this cat here: African Golden Cat Geographical Range.

Clouded Leopard

The range for this cat includes Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. All these countries manufacture palm oil with associated deforestation (on a massive and unprecedented level in Indonesia for example).

CountryProduction of Palm Oil 2007
China0.2 m tonnes
Thailand1 m tonnes
Malaysia15.8 m tonnes
Indonesia16.9 m tonnes

The clouded leopard is exclusively arboreal. It lives in the forest. See more here: Clouded Leopard Range and here: Clouded Leopard.

Sumatran Tiger

This fine wild cat is at deaths door in the wild due to rampant deforestation in Sumatra. See Sumatran Tiger.

Bornean Bay Cat

A small, little known wild cat that lives in the rainforests on the island of Borneo. Three countries have a piece of Borneo: Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Malaysia and Indonesia we know are the biggest producers of palm oil and Borneo is the world’s third largest island. It was once covered by forests but that is no longer the case and deforestation is rapid. The Borneo Bay cat’s survival is threatened. See Bornean Bay Cat and Bornean Bay Cat Range.

Asiatic Golden Cat

Another small wild cat whose habitat happens to be in Asia where there were lots of forest and where logging is destroying this cat’s habitat by the day. See Asiatic Golden cat Range and Asian Golden cat.

Leopard Cat

Otherwise called the Asian Leopard Cat. Its habitat is forests in Asia.

Flat Headed Cat

Another Asian cat that is affected by palm oil plantations but seems to have adapted to live in them. See Flat Headed Cat

Jungle Cat

In respect of palm oil production this cat may be affected living as it does in China (amongst other countries) and in jungle (amongst other habitats). See Jungle Cat Range.

Central & South America

If Asia is the region of greatest production of palm oil (and arguably the region of greatest disregard for the effects of its actions on wildlife) another area of high levels of deforestation is Central and South America, part of a continent where a number of wild cats live and wildcat habitats are being destroyed daily.

The countries below produce palm oil and have rainforest. Rainforest is primary forest (ancient forest) that we will not get back:

Country (region)Palm Oil Production 2007 – tonnesWild Cats Affected due to loss of wildcat habitats
Guatemala (Central America)0.1 millionPuma, Jaguarundi, Margay, Jaguar, Ocelot,
Honduras (Central America)0.2 mPuma, Jaguar, Ocelot, Margay
Costa Rica0.2 tonPuma, Jaguar, Ocelot, Margay
Colombia0.8 mMargay, Jaguarundi, Puma, Jaguar, Oncilla, Ocelot
Ecuador0.3 mMargay, Jaguarundi, Puma, Jaguar, Oncilla, Ocelot
Brazil0.2 mOncilla, Puma, Jaguarundi, Margay, Jaguar, Ocelot

Note: the list of cats may not be complete but I hope the message is conveyed. Palm oil production has potential benefits but produced in the unsustainable way in which it currently is, is simply madness and the wild cat, my area of particular interest, is suffering terribly as a consequence through loss of wildcat habitats. Wildcat habitats are being lost worldwide and not just through deforestation. The general expansion of humankind through population growth has a profound and permanent affect on wildcat habitats of any sort. The fragmentation of wildcat habitats and the loss of wildcat habitats is the single biggest cause of the gradual extirpation of the wildcat worldwide I would argue.

Some more on palm oil deforestation

The reason why the production of palm oil results in deforestation is because the plants that create palm oil have to be grown in the kind of climate and environment where virgin forests thrive. The forests have to be cleared. Palm plantations has led to the conversion of huge areas of natural forest into monoculture plantations. About 5% of tropical deforestation is due to palm oil production. Overall, according to the European Commission palm all contributed to 2.3% of global deforestation.

There have been calls to make palm oil production sustainable. For example, Certified Sustainable Palm Oil is meant to be produced in adherence to established environmental and social standards. It is produced in a way to minimise negative impacts on the environment and on biodiversity and of course local communities. Stakeholders contribute to the preservation of forests.

Forest fires have been set to clear land. Burning forests to make way for palm production releases greenhouse gases which adds to global warming. And of course, forests act as “natural carbon sinks”. This means that they absorb carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis. It’s a double whammy of contributions to global warming when trees are felled or destroyed in fires.

Deforestation for palm oil production in Papua
Deforestation for palm oil production in Papua. Image in public domain.

Electric vehicles destroy habitat through deforestation

Is the current trend towards electric vehicles helping with the reduction of palm or production? I don’t think they have. In fact, electric vehicles are destroying habitat as well. The theory is the EVs will supplant diesel vehicles burning bio-diesel.

My research indicates that in 2014, 45% of all palm oil used in Europe ended up in the petrol tanks of cars and trucks. I believe it’s called biodiesel. It is palm oil used to create diesel fuel. Europe’s use of palm oil in diesel increased by a factor of six between 2010 and 2014.

Palm oil use for non-energy purposes decreased over the period 2010 to 2014.

One website about rainforests has a headline, “Electric Vehicles Are Stealth Rainforest Killers!” This is because the production of electric vehicles consumes a huge amount of precious metals mined from the ground such as cobalt, nickel and manganese. They are mined in the rainforests of Africa, south-east Asia and South America.

It is all down to the lithium-ion batteries used currently to drive electric vehicles. They are enormous and they are heavy and they require precious metals. For example, the Chevrolet Volt battery pack weighs 444 kg which is 10,000 times the weight of a smartphone battery. It requires 10 kg of cobalt and 30 kg of nickel.

Indonesia and the Philippines are at the forefront of global production of nickel mining the environment. Cobalt, copper and nickel are mined along an 800 km belt in the rainforest in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This is all resulting in deforestation which results in the loss of habitat for wild species including, my pet topic, the small wild cat species. Electric vehicles are destroying the habitat of cats on this basis.

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