On Halloween, five years ago, we welcomed to the Aquarium, Ralf, and Sommer, two unique and very special residents. Currently, they are 2 of only 52 Tomistoma in North American Zoos and Aquariums and have been excellent ambassadors for Tomistoma populations being threatened in Indonesia and Malaysia as a result of careless practices in the palm oil industry. We are committed to doing what we can to protect Tomistoma populations worldwide.
October (a.k.a. “croc-tober”) is the perfect time to recognize the arrival anniversary of Ralf and Sommer by having a chat about our candy choices this Halloween. Yes, our treat selections do impact Tomistoma and other animal populations and so we need to discuss …palm oil.
Unsustainable palm oil sourcing is leading to the rapid loss of habitats, which in turn is placing many animal species, including the beloved Tomistoma, in danger of extinction.
Tomistoma, one of the largest, most secretive, and least understood crocodilians in the world, are found in peat swamp forests of Indonesia and Malaysia, the same areas that are being affected by large irresponsible palm oil companies. To make room for company plantations, vital habitats are being destroyed at alarming rates, thereby impacting populations of orangutans, elephants, tigers, sun bears, rhinos, and Tomistoma crocodiles.
Many of our commonly used products, including favorite chocolate treats, are made with palm oil that has been sourced irresponsibly and unsustainably. While this tragedy is occurring far away and out of sight of daily life for most of us, palm oil is used in many of our daily products, often making them more durable, usable, and appealing to consumers. Palm oil is sourced for cleaning supplies, soaps, cosmetics, hair care products, and many convenience foods. This oil is used as an alternative to trans-fats in products like ice cream, chocolates, and other candy. Because palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature, it gives chocolate a smooth and shiny appearance, keeps it from melting, and is used to give baked goods a creamy taste and texture.
We can make a difference by making responsible choices. While this might seem overwhelming, take heart because our choices can have a positive impact. To start, learn to recognize palm oil on ingredient lists. It is often disguised under one of its many aliases.
With Halloween quickly approaching, you can try to make educated decisions about what candy you buy. For example, look for products displaying the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) symbol.
Formed in 2004 in response to increasing concerns about the impacts palm oil was having, the RSPO created a production standard that determines best practices for producing and sourcing palm oil. RSPO members are carefully vetted regularly to verify that they remain committed to sustainability in their industry.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo creates wonderful resources for consumers to use each Halloween and has lots of other information about palm oil on its website.
You honor Ralf and Sommer in making even small changes to your purchases. Our resident Tomistoma are ambassadors for all populations threatened by deforestation and habitat loss on the other side of the planet. In addition to honoring them on this 5th anniversary of their arrival to the Aquarium by making wise croc-friendly candy choices, why not plan to visit them … soon. In fact, you are invited to join us for one of our after-hours Halloween at the Aquarium, on October 30 and 31.
Ralf, Sommer, and all of us at the Virginia Aquarium want to say, have a safe, happy and Tomistoma-friendly Croc-tober!
Learn more about Tomistoma!
Learn more about these amazing crocs and our residents on our species page!
Fins & Frights
Since the posting of this piece, the Aquarium launched its annual Halloween event. Stay tuned for this year's information!