Claim- Jenny Gray, Chief Executive of Zoos Victoria in Australia, claims that orang-utan numbers are declining by around 1,000 individuals annually – and that palm oil labelling can stop this. Is this true?


The original claim that orang-utans are declining by 1,000 per year was first published in early 2001 by Dutch researcher Carl van Schaik. The research referred to the specific years of 1998 and 1999 – almost 20 years ago – and specifically to the Sumatran sub-species of orangutan. However, this ancient statistic has not survived the test of time. According to modern, more recent estimates, the population of Sumatran orangutans is approximately 14,613 individuals – more than double previous estimates.

There are no accurate recent assessments of Bornean orangutans; the most recent (2008) estimate was 104,000 according to the IUCN, using population density and range estimates. The IUCN says the current population and current rate of decline have not been assessed.

In short, there is no evidence whatever for the Zoos Victoria claim. It is simply unsourced, fact-free hyperbole. Pushing the idea that labelling palm oil products in Australia – which comprises less than 2 per cent of the global palm oil market – is a magic bullet for orangutan conservation is neither a useful, nor a truthful, approach. If Zoos Victoria cares at all about facts or education, it should desist from such statements.