The world’s two most damaging natural products with respect to forests are: palm oil and natural rubber.
The once vast, natural and ancient forests of Asia and Africa are inhabited by many precious wild species including notable wild cat species such as the Sumatran tiger, the Borneo bay cat, the African golden cat and the clouded leopard.
Every year around 50,000 square miles of virgin forest is cut down to make way for commerce including palm oil trees and rubber trees. It is the worst it has ever been. Initially the production of palm oil was the major killer of these forests and the animals who lived within them but soaring demand for tyres (tires) has now resulted in the production of latex from rubber trees in vast plantations to become an equal menace to endangered species.
Up to 21 million acres of additional rubber plantations will be required to meet global demand for tyres by 2024. This will have a catastrophic effect on wildlife. My personal initial concern is the clouded leopard which is a tree dwelling wild cat species and one of the most beautiful animals on the planet.
The threat of the expansion of rubber plantations is equal to that of palm plantations. Palm oil is used in the manufacture of about 50% of all products you see in a supermarket. Palm oils also makes biofuels. Palm trees are of the same family of trees as the date and coconut palm trees. The fruit from the palm oil tree is used to make the palm oil.
About 70% of the world’s natural rubber is used to make tyres. Few people think about this when they buy a new set of tyres for that car. In an ever increasing demand for vehicle and aeroplane tyres the consequences will be more forest habitat being cut down.
The 4.3 and 8.5 million hectares of new plantations required to meet projected demand by 2024 will threaten large areas of Asian forest including forest in protected areas. Many protected areas have already been lost to rubber plantations. More than 70% of the 185,000 acre Snoul wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia was cleared for rubber plantations between 2009 and 2013.
In addition to the catastrophic damage done to forests, fertilizers and pesticides used on plantations runs into rivers and streams having a knock-on, catastrophic effect on freshwater species. In Laos, the local people have reported dramatic declines in fish, shrimps, shellfish, turtles and vegetation on the banks of streams.
The Sustainable Natural Rubber Initiative is an alternative way forward. There has to be a way to produce natural rubber for tyres that does not result in the destruction of forests. At the moment, we are told that rubber grown on deforested land is treated the same way in the marketplace as rubber grown in a more sustainable way. There should be an emphasis on sustainability. Misleading promotions and labelling needs to be eradicated.
Modern clouded leopard conservation appears to have given up protecting the cat in the wild.
Sources: The Times – Wikipedia – wordwildlife.org – snr-i.org