Philadelphia Zoo global conservation partner Dr. Marcella Kelly is an associate professor of wildlife in Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources and Environment and has been working to save big cats for more than twenty years.
Dr. Kelly’s work takes her to multiple countries around the world, including the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where the fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers remaining in the wild can be found.
As in much of the world, economic development is the root of habitat loss in Sumatra. To meet global demand for palm oil, companies are clearing tiger habitat to increase plantation acreage. This reduces overall habitat area and fragments what little habitat area remains, leaving forest patches too small for tigers to use and isolating local populations.
Later this fall, Dr. Kelly’s team will be traveling to Central Sumatra where there are five protected areas within the Riau Province; one of which is Teso Nilo National Park. Despite laws intended to protect these areas, however, tigers in Riau continue to be threatened by forest loss associated with the palm oil industry.
Dr. Kelly’s team will begin by assessing how much connected habitat is still available for use by central Sumatran tiger populations. They will also identify which areas of oil palm plantations tigers may be able to use and why. By mapping out where palm oil plantations overlap with what’s left of the forest, we hope to provide information that will allow plantation managers to include ‘tiger friendly’ zones when developing and managing their sites.
Big Cat Heroes like you have been playing an important role in Dr. Kelly’s work. Because you’ve been asking manufacturers to tell their suppliers they want their palm oil to be deforestation-free, many of the largest palm oil producers and traders such as Wilmar, Golden-Agri Resources, Cargill and most recently Bunge are beginning to adopt new no deforestation, no peat, and no exploitation policies. These policies are designed to have a direct impact on how palm oil is grown and, if implemented effectively and in a timely manner, they will most certainly save habitat for tigers and other wildlife.
Keep up the good work! And encourage manufacturers to be transparent about their commitments to zero deforestation palm oil and share their progress.
By Valerie Peckham, Conservation Program Manager