One of the newest threats to wildlife today, is the ever expanding conversion of natural forests to palm oil plantations.  The palm oil tree is indigenous to the Africanplantations continent, traditionally grown in modest numbers in central and western Africa.  The palm tree has many uses and in moderation, is actually a benefit to both the environment and the human population.  Today, there are a number of multi-national conglomerates replacing huge forests with palm tree plantations; these are common not only on the African continent but also in Malaysia and Indonesia.

One such operation recently removed 70% of the natural forest of the Ssese Islands.  Previous to the conversion, the dense rainforest was habitat to a large variety of wildlife species; monkeys, dozens of bird species, butterflies and monitor lizards.  The tour books, which have not been updated it seems, still talk of the vast forests on the islands and their natural inhabitants.  For the most part, these are now gone; there are a few monkeys and some birds, but with most of their habitat removed, it seems they migrated to the mainland in search of new homes.  Ssese never had a lot of tourists, but some came in search of the forest creatures; now that they are gone, it would seem that once the word gets out, these tourists will be fewer and fewer.

One of the other casualties of this deforestation is the meddling that the developers of the plantations did with regards to the natural balance of nature.  When removing the trees, they came across many snakes which they poisoned by spraying the ground after leveling it.  Now with all the snakes gone, the rats have no natural predator, and they are in huge numbers all over the island.  Houses, hotels, churches, schools and offices are all inundated with rat populations that are uncontrollable.   Besides the obvious nuisance of so many rodents around, it is also undesirable because they are notorious for spreading disease.

There were financial issues with the introduction of the palm plantations as well.  The local people were duped into believing that it would be best for them to remove the trees on their properties as well as change their crops from vegetables and bananas to palm trees.  The partnership between the government and the multi-national coordinated a door to door marketing campaign that promised future incomes for the conversion.  Initially, the multi-national would lend the farmers money for the conversion, which they could pay back when they started producing the palm seeds.  There is a 3-year period that one has to wait for the first crop….that was 3 years for these farmers without any income and no garden to grow sustainable vegetables as they did before.  When the first crop came, they received no money, as they had an outstanding loan to pay off.  The multi-national also controls the price of the crop, as in a monopoly.  As it turns out, it will take years to pay off the loan, which ultimately increased the poverty of the farmers greatly.  Many land owners have now lost their family plots to the multi-national due to non-payment of the loans.

Some of the farmers got together and have lodged a class action law suit against the multi-national, but with the government as their partner it does not look as if they will be successful in their attempt to get compensation.  The wildlife that was killed or driven out did not even have that option to protest, they were just left without a habitat after the bulldozers levelled the forest.  The government of Uganda calls this “development” but for the human and animal inhabitants of the forest and its surrounding area, it is anything but development.

These palm plantations are springing up all over the African continent; but there is little that can be done about the lost forests and the wildlife that lived in them – they are long gone.