As more and more trees fall in Sumatra, we are seeing a new crisis unfold for orangutans that are coming into contact, and conflict, with humans
Trapped in tiny patches of forest surrounded by farmlands, cut off from viable areas of habitat, orangutans may resort to raiding crops for survival. For smallholder farmers, this can seriously threaten their livelihoods, and their retaliation can be fatal.
The Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) is the only active orangutan rescue team in Sumatra. They regularly evacuate orangutans from condemned forests that are being torn down by bulldozers, then release them into safe habitat.
Rescues are just one element of the HOCRU programme. The team also seeks to tackle the causes of human-orangutan conflict, provides training so that agricultural communities can protect their crops without harming wildlife, and supports government capacity in dealing with this growing problem.
Our partners also confiscate orangutans from the illegal pet trade – a by-product of deforestation, as shrinking forests make them easy targets for poachers.
These rescues are vital – with so few Sumatran orangutans left in the wild, every life is precious. However, they do not solve the larger problem that is driving human-wildlife conflict. To protect orangutans in the long term, we need to ensure that their habitat is safe.
Protecting and restoring forests
Our ultimate mission is to protect wild orangutans in safe forests. In order to achieve this, we need to address drivers of deforestation at every scale. Some forest destruction is supposedly legal, but much is clearly illegal. Some is a gradual chipping away of the forest one or two hectares at a time by rural communities, and some is the industrial-scale conversion of forests to agriculture. Some is enabled by a lack of law enforcement, and some by high-level land use planning decisions.
Our partners work with communities living next to orangutan habitat, helping them protect and improve their livelihoods and in the process, safeguarding an irreplaceable ecosystem. In order to tackle the root causes of forest degradation, our key strategy is to promote and enable sustainable development activities which are compatible with conservation. We promote the value of forests to the Indonesian government, to industry and to civil society, supporting efforts to slow deforestation. We challenge those responsible for forest loss, whether by lobbying the government and private companies to honour their commitments to environmental conservation, or by exposing wildlife and forest crimes. We shine a spotlight on the breathtaking biodiversity in Sumatra’s last standing forests, building a global movement calling for their protection. We are working with partners and allies in Sumatra and across the globe to scale up the reach and impact of conservation programmes for the Leuser Ecosystem. The approaches we support include field protection, law enforcement, political and legal advocacy, campaigning, and sustainable development.
The ecosystem restoration programme is operated by our partners, the Orangutan Information Centre, with a team of local staff and farmers. The restoration sites are located within the Leuser Ecosystem, a protected area, and are repairing damage to the forest caused by illegal activities – primarily the clearing of forest for oil palm plantations. As well as restoring lost habitat and reinforcing national park boundaries, these projects engage local people in grassroots conservation action. Strong roots in the community are absolutely essential for this work to succeed, and the groups we work with have become the guardians of the forests, protecting the ecosystem from future threats.
Our CARE: Community Agroforestry, Restoration and Education model is a ‘greenprint’ for successful grassroots conservation. This approach supports communities to protect, restore and safeguard orangutan habitat, whilst benefitting from critical ecosystem services and higher incomes.
Our field partners develop bespoke conservation action plans with communities living next to key orangutan habitat, then provide training and tools to equip them with the skills and knowledge to benefit from, rather than exploit the rainforest ecosystem. Through training in agroforestry and organic farming techniques, farmers have increased crop yields and improved their profit, reducing their need to expand farmlands into the forest. This results in decreased pressure on the ecosystem, providing greater security for orangutans and the many other species that share their habitat.
Our partners work with farmers and plantation workers, providing specialist training in how to prevent and resolve human-orangutan conflict so that they can protect their crops without resorting to harming wildlife. Over 400 farmers have been trained in best-practice techniques to discourage orangutans from crop raiding, including making and using bamboo noise cannons.
OIC have produced numerous resources to support this outreach work, including ‘Islamic Verses for Conservation’, a book which draws on references in the Koran regarding environmental protection, to make conservation directly relevant to the many Muslim communities with whom they work.
Our partners the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) have a passion and flair for promoting the value of forests amongst Indonesian civil society. They have developed an environmental education curriculum that is taught in schools throughout north Sumatra, and the team teach conservation lessons and hold conservation camps, reaching more than 15,000 students throughout the region.
They run a scholarship programme for Indonesian university students to support study into orangutan ecology and forest conservation. To date, scholarships have been awarded to 23 students. Recipients have become key members of the conservation movement, going on to work in biodiversity and habitat protection across Indonesia. They also offer a unique opportunity for students to embark on apprenticeships, preparing and inspiring the next generation of Indonesian conservationists to work towards a more sustainable future for their forests.
We built Sekolah Alam Leuser, or Leuser Nature School, with the aim of incentivising local farmers to become guardians of the forest by providing free education for their children in exchange for their active involvement in forest restoration and protection efforts. There are no other secondary schools in the area, making it extremely expensive and challenging for families to send their children to school. Sekolah Alam Leuser will therefore enable local children in the villages around Bukit Mas to remain in education for much longer than they might otherwise have done – before Sekolah Alam Leuser, they would have finished their schooling at age 11 or 12.