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Philadelphia Schoolchildren Make Video Plea On Behalf Of Critically Endangered Species

By Chelsea Karnash

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Students at a Philadelphia middle school have made a plea on behalf of critically endangered Sumatran tigers.

In a YouTube video, the children from the city's Alternative Middle Years (A.M.Y.) at James Martin School educate consumers about palm oil and urge company General Mills as well as others to stop using the vegetable oil in its products. Representatives from Congressman Robert Brady's, Senator Michael Stack's and Councilman Bobby Henon's offices even joined the students at the school on Richmond Street to commend them for their commitment to this issue.

The video begins with a group of students holding signs that read, "Save the Tigers," their faces painted in orange and black stripes.

"What do you know about unsustainable palm oil?" one student asks another.

"Well, I know that it's used in our food, lotion, products you buy -- like soap," the second child replies.

The video is an entry in this year's Albert M. Greenfield Foundation Unless Contest at the Philadelphia Zoo. The topic is "Take Action for Tigers," and it focuses on the impact of palm oil on tigers and other endangered species. In addition to researching the topic, students must create a campaign, choose the medium they use to communicate their message and document their interactions with the companies they target.

WATCH the video here.

So, why tigers and palm oil?

According to the Zoo, harvesting palm oil – which can be found in roughly half of the foods and cosmetics we eat and use – causes deforestation. In the past decade alone, close to 80% of the deforestation in Sumatra has been directly caused by the race to harvest the coveted oil, costing animals such as tigers, rhinos and primates their natural habitat.

"Palm oil is in high demand," one male student says. "Companies have to cut down trees and destroy rainforests in order to produce enough."

According to the kids, companies like General Mills are already "doing great work" to cut down on the use of the oil, but they need to do more.

"Spread the word," the students urge, before directing viewers to "like" a Facebook page, where they can also sign a petition.

"We love the yummy foods from General Mills like Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Haagen-dazs ice cream. Unfortunately these products contain palm oil which come from palm trees located in the rain forrest [sic]. Actions like this can hurt animals like tigers," the petition reads. "Encouraging General Mills to increase their efforts to use sustainable palm oils helps the environment, and helps animals like the tigers."

The final contest submission is due on March 21, 2014. If selected as the winning school, the kids at A.M.Y. will win a cash prize of $1,250.

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