- Your Voice
- Your Leaders
- In the Media
- Online Shop
Indonesia’s forests are being destroyed. Ecotourism may offer one way to protect them.
By Gemima Harvey for The Diplomat.
Following a flurry of international attention and keen anticipation, the extension of Indonesia’s forest moratorium, preventing companies from getting new permits to clear protected areas, was confirmed on Wednesday. The news comes days before the original ban’s expiry on May 20, but even with this promised respite for Indonesia’s forests, many remain concerned.
Much of this concern centers on the future of vast swathes of tropical rainforest in Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra. Aceh’s Governor, Zaini Abdullah, is pushing a pro-development plan that would allow 1.2 million hectares of protected rainforest—some of the most pristine areas left in the country—to be rezoned, opening the gates to mining, timber and palm oil companies. The plan is reportedly close to approval, unless Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono intervenes. The spatial plan calls for roads that would cut through sections of Gunung Leuser National Park, the last place on earth where elephants, rhinos, tigers and orangutans can be found in the same location. Adding alarm, the protected status of a critical ecosystem, The Tripa Peat Swamp, would be removed.
East Asia Minerals (EAM) has been lobbying authorities to approve the plan, releasing a statement last month saying: “The company [EAM] is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from ‘protected forest’ to ‘production forest’.” They go on to say that efforts have been stalled by a coalition of environmental NGOs.
Opponents have taken to social media, with efforts including a recent petition from global campaign network Avaaz. Rudi Putra, the Indonesian conservation manager who won The Future for Nature Award 2013, explains in the appeal that Aceh boasts the largest biodiversity in the Asia Pacific region and is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In 2011, the national moratorium was set in motion by an agreement between Indonesia and Norway under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme. Norway pledged US$1 billion to support Indonesia in its strategy to address issues of rapid deforestation and peatland degradation, which accounts for 75% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Forest coverage is disappearing at a disturbing rate, earning Indonesia the dubious distinction of inclusion in the 2008 Guinness World Records for having the fastest rate of deforestation. An area equivalent to 300 soccer fields is cleared every hour, and the UN Environmental Programme predicts that 98% of Indonesia’s forest area could be destroyed by 2022.
Suspense about Aceh’s future coincides with the release of a UNDP study of forestry governance in Indonesia, which rates Aceh as the most poorly managed in terms of protection, regulation, planning and participation of REDD+.
Graham Usher, Landscape Protection Specialist, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project is pleased that the moratorium has been extended but says it remains unclear what this means for Aceh. He notes that where the former governor reformed forestry regulation in favour of protection, the new Aceh governor is reverting “to the development paradigm of ‘less forests = more development.’”
Usher explains that national laws and environmental guidelines are paramount, including mandates to protect the Leuser Ecosystem, but the Aceh Government is under the impression that a “special autonomy” act gives it unbridled authority to break national forest protection laws. He says, “It appears that the National Government is taking a softly-softly with Aceh to avoid disputes.”
A key problem is inconsistency in spatial mapping. While the National Government has the final say, since decentralization in the late 90s, local governments have been producing their own maps and Usher says not all of these are recognised by the national authority. He gives the example of a 2007 concession handed to a palm oil company by the land mapping agency in Aceh. This concession in the Tripa Peat Swamp was marked as protected by all previous moratorium maps and yet the company (Dua Perkasa Lestari) has continued to clear the land, regardless of its environmental significance and concerns over legality.
Usher says efforts are being made to move towards a solution “where all government agencies essentially work from the same baseline data.” But with 40 years of divergent maps to assimilate, this is far from simple. “There is no doubt that progress has been made, particularly with the public perception that maps are public documents and should be transparent.”
It is also critical to consider the affected indigenous people living near the areas mapped for rezoning.
Campaigners and conservationists assert that lost forest coverage could cause landslides and flash flooding, with serious consequences for local populations. Usher says that Aceh has many steep mountains with fragile soil systems and that a proposed new road network creates risk of major disasters. “The Leuser Ecosystem was not only established to protect biodiversity and threatened species, but also to protect the ecosystem services on which millions of people currently depend.”
Others, however, argue that restraint on industry is a restraint on raising the living standards of the rural poor. Pro-development bodies maintain that expanding industry creates jobs for communities where there may be little alternative economic opportunity.
This reasoning is used by industry representatives opposed to extending the ban on forest conversions. The director of law and advocacy for the Indonesian Palm Oil Association, Tungkot Sipayung, spoke out in The Jakarta Post, saying extending the moratorium will “limit development of labour-intensive palm plantations and palm processing sectors.”
Another sentiment, in opposition to limiting development, is cynicism towards the interventionist role played by industrialized countries. World Growth, a pro-development NGO, contends in a report about the potential impact of the 2011 moratorium on communities, “It is crucial that developing nations be given the same chance that developed nations have benefited from.” The report points out that in certain regions palm oil is the main or only crop grown, providing jobs in its various stages of production.
Usher dismisses the idea that industry expansion pulls people from poverty as “rubbish.” He uses spatial planning in Aceh to illustrate that land decisions are being dictated by “a few bureaucrats and private interests.” He goes on to note that there is limited land for productive agriculture in the region and that most people live on the north/northeast coastal plain, where most rice production takes place. This rice farming hinges on irrigation from inland forests. “If these forests are converted to other uses (such as oil palm or mining), many of these people will suffer increased poverty. There is a reason that developed countries like Japan and Taiwan (with a similar landscape to Aceh) have 60-70% forest cover: they have long realized that they need this level of forest cover to sustain their development.”
Spurred by climate change worries, industrializing nations are being called on to minimize emissions. As Indonesia demonstrates, this in turn requires new policies and improved forest management to limit the deforestation linked to growing industry. That’s a point echoed in a study by Yale and Stanford University researchers, which projects that expansion of palm plantations in Indonesia’s could pump more that 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2020, more than all of Canada’s current fossil fuel emissions.
Indonesia has the third-largest tropical rainforest coverage in the world and as global warming is blamed for more severe weather events and environmental catastrophes, many eyes are turning to the Southeast Asian nation to keep the lungs of the earth intact.
But who draws the line between development and environmental degradation?
Indonesian conservationist Rudi Putra says in the Avaaz petition appeal, “Countries like mine have a right to develop, but not at the expense of our priceless natural patrimony, and it should benefit, not harm, Indonesians.” Wolfgang Sachs, author of The Development Dictionary, has written: “Politics is compelled to push either equity without ecology or ecology without equity.” He continues to discuss post-development initiatives where, “a transition from economies based on fossil-fuel resources to economies based on biodiversity is paramount.”
One possible model is ecotourism, which lets people earn money while living in harmony with the earth. Indigenous communities retain their independence, at the same time accessing a sustainable economy.
Disputes between indigenous populations and multinational companies are increasingly common, in a disturbing trend known as “land grabbing” or “economic land concessions.” In Laos and Cambodia, for example, the chain of collusion strings together multinational companies, backed by banks in Europe, which are granted land concessions by corrupt government officials, who then look away as locals are rendered powerless, their farmland and livelihoods destroyed. The disenfranchised are left with an ultimatum: work for the companies or starve.
Right now in Borneo, the Malaysian firm Sarawak Energy is planning to establish hydroelectric dams, which according to news site Mongebay are “controversial because they require the forced displacement of indigenous communities and will flood large tracts of rainforest. Furthermore there is currently little demand for the electricity that will be generated, raising suspicions that the primary purpose of the projects is to generate lucrative contracts for politically well-connected firms.”
Ecotourism turns this trend around. Rather than economic growth at any social and environmental cost, people are empowered to create a conservation-focused economy, creating job opportunities while providing incentives for protecting rainforests and generating funds for wilderness patrols and the rehabilitation of endangered species displaced by human activity.
Take the inspiring example of community-based ecotourism in Tangkahan — near the Gunung Leuser National Park, an area under threat from the Aceh Government’s forest plans. Fuelled by the desire to create a sustainable economy, two villages of more than 7000 people came together to establish The Lembaga Pariwisata Tangkahan (LPT). Supported by NGOs Indecon and Flora and Fauna International, in 2002, LPT signed an agreement with the National Park Authority, securing 10,000 hectares (now 17,000 hectares) for eco-tourism activities under the prerequisite that it be protected. From 55 founding members, 32 formerly worked as illegal loggers, indicating an innate wish to protect their environment while retaining the ability to feed their families.
With financial incentives for conservation, the community has transformed the area into an ecotourism destination. This has led to job creation, with various roles required to run their tourism office and multiple tour packages. LPT’s website states that just a decade ago, the area was an exit point for illegal logging in the national park. With its stunning scenery and clear rivers, however, the community began to realize the potential for income from appreciative visitors.
Jessica McKelson, Director of Raw Wildlife Encounters, launched her ecotourism initiative in 2008 and said the livelihood of local people is a core pillar for why the company operates. “They are custodians of the lands that surround their communities, where we bring guests to visit, they allow us to enjoy these areas and we offer employment opportunities from guides to rangers to administration as well as education programs so they can comfortably support their families and don’t have to work in legal, or illegal, logging or palm oil and can live sustainably. Most have lost all their natural resources to deforestation practices and were left with no option but working for $8-$10 per day in terrible conditions or losing that job to transmigrants.”
Since the business started, McKelson says that 85% of gross earnings have gone to community and environmental programs. “This community-based eco-tourism model provides local people with stable, consistent income without damaging their own backyards and the wildlife and ecosystems within it. It’s conservation through empowering and educating the community. A win-win for all!”
Along with economic benefits for local people, there is the added bonus of conservation-based skills transfer from NGOs to the community. Describing the Tangkahan initiative, The International Ecotourism Society says that skills like “ecotourism development and management, planning and policy development, conservation management, and monitoring and assessment” were merged with Karo culture and values “to ensure community ownership of the initiative and equality in the distribution of benefits.” Raw Wildlife Encounters also offers guide training to the Tangkahan community to support sustainable management that is consistent with standards set out by The International Ecotourism Society.
In promoting ecotourism, emphasis must be placed on ethical management to ensure it does not transform into mass tourism, void of eco-values. McKelson says Bukit Lawang in Sumatra is an example of this. She explains that tourists ignore conventions about avoiding contact with orangutans and even pay bribes to local guides for a close encounter and the chance to feed them, which becomes encouraged by guides keen for the extra cash.
Despite the cases of mismanagement, she says, “Eco tourism in Indonesia can be a great employment model to protect natural resources via an alternative sustainable livelihood.” In other words, a step in the direction of building economies that do not come at the expense of the environment.
Full article > http://thediplomat.com/2013/05/19/can-ecotourism-save-indonesias-disappearing-forests/
Gemima Harvey (@Gemima_Harvey) is a freelance journalist and photographer.
By Colleen Curlewis, April 2013
I returned recently from the first Earth 4 Orangutans trip to Northern Sumatra where I saw how the scourge of plastic and non-biodegradable waste is choking the environment. I wanted to write a blog that gives you some tips on how to travel responsibility – tips that can and should be applied both at home and abroad. Before that though, let’s look at why plastic is such a problem.
If you’re concerned about greenhouse gases and the overuse of fossil fuels, plastic fails dismally in that department too. The energy and other resources used to produce these (mostly) single use materials is significant. Using National Geographic calculations it would take about 22 million gallons of crude oil to produce the 38 million water bottles used by the Americans each year. That’s a lot of oil, a lot drilling and a lot of emissions.
Beverage bottles contribute the highest amount of litter (after cigarette butts) and are especially bad for three reasons they require extensive energy to produce, are typically single use, and do not biodegrade. In Australia, despite our first world facilities in recycling, public rubbish bins and container deposits, the Clean Up Australia Day foundation lists plastic as the number one source of rubbish collected. A staggering 38% of all rubbish collected is beverage containers and their lids – all of which are recyclable.
Make sure you show this to the shopkeeper straight away. This is how you can set an example, and if you can speak a few words of the local language, explain you want to keep their country/ city/village beautiful by not adding to the litter. You might also say that animals sometimes eat the bags and die painfully.
Reduce, reuse recycle. Say no to plastic. Lobby the manufacturers of your favourite products to reduce packaging and to find alternatives. The problem of plastic has been created in such a short time, but has created a very long term problem. We need to take personal responsibility for what we consume. For ourselves, our children and all the creatures we share the planet with. We do, after all, only have one.
The term Batak is often used across Indonesia to collectively describe the people of North Sumatra, which includes the Toba, Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun, Angkola and Mandailing people. It is more common however when in North Sumatra to refer to the Toba people as Batak, and the others as Karo, Pakpak. Simalungun, Angkola and Mandailing. Historically it is believed that the Batak people moved from Toba to access the lucrative trading that occurred along the coasts of North Sumatra at the time. Many decided to settle along the way, such as the highland Karo, and their traditions evolved into the ones we see today with the distinct language and customs of each group. Lingga village is not only significant to Jack for his family history, but is significant to all the boys as a living example of Karo culture that has been lost in many areas, including Tangkahan.
The traditional Karo house is quite different than the Batak Toba. It lacks the large boat shaped roof that dominates the landscape of Toba, and instead is built roughly in the shape of a praying man. The animist religion historically practiced by Karo people, believes in three worlds, that of the sky, of man on the earth, and the underworld below. The shape of the house represents this belief. The house is on stilts, with a large space underneath, representing the underworld, the living space is the land of men on the earth, and the large spacious roof, used for storing and drying produce, is the heavens above. The house is entered via a ladder of which one side is taller than the other. Touching the lower side upon entry pays homage to the under world, and touching the higher side when exiting pays homage to the heavens. The door is low, so everyone entering must bow, and so pay homage to the earth, the land of man.
One of the highlights of the discussion forums was the presentation by Ary Suhandi, the director of Indecon, and a key player in making the transition from illegal logging to tourism in Tangkahan. He spoke of how Indecon promote ecotourism, and sustainable development for local communities throughout Indonesia by providing support and training for communities ready to make the change.The Toba test tour was designed to showcase eco tourism opportunities in the area and explore places not yet on the tourist trail. We visited a wonderful project called Taman Eden, at Lumban Julu where a local family grows organic produce and engage the community in propagation and planting of endemic species in an effort to regenerate forest destroyed by the paper industry.
Seeing Tangkahan shine, and exploring a new area of North Sumatra were definite highlights, but the overall highlight was the people we shared this with.Meeting and getting to know so many passionate Indonesians whose drive to preserve Indonesias' wild places through eco tourism and community participation was inspiring. Ika and myself made many good friends and we look forward to exploring further all the innovative exciting projects in the hope of sharing them with RAW clients in the near future.
Raw Wildlife Encounters Founder Director and Orangutan Land Trust (OLT) Trustee Jessica McKelson is currently in Singapore for the Orangutan Land Trust workshop to determine the Trusts future direction and strategy.
Executive Director of OLT, Michelle Desilets, said of Ms McKelson's involvement and the workshop "I am so proud of you and to be a part of the efforts of Orangutan Land Trust. I am only too excited to be a part of this strategic workshop with dynamic people. You are such an inspiring woman, keep up the great work!"
OLT was founded by Lone Drescher Neilson, known internationally as a champion for orangutans, and as one of the foremost experts in the rescue, care, rehabilitation and release of these orangutans. She is the founder and manager of the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Project in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) operated by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. OLT is also a partner of Ms McKelson's Earth 4 Orangutans project founded with acclaimed primatologist and Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program Director Dr Ian Singleton.
"I feel privileged to be part of such an amazing organisation", Ms McKelson said of OLT.
Today Ms McKelson departs for Sumatra to meet with The Guardian (UK) Environmental freelance journalist Oliver Milman to share with him the incredible work Raw's conservation partners achieve within the unique areas of Sumatra Raw Wildlife Encounters visits. Read Milman's past articles on RWE and our conservation partners work here:Zookeepers plan to build islands for orangutans - The Age
Orangutan Land Trust
Earth 4 Orangutans
Marketing & Communications RWE
About Raw Wildlife Encounters
Raw Wildlife Encounters (RWE) is one of the world's leading eco adventure travel agencies. It provides guests with life-changing travel experiences and unique wildlife encounters while catering for an exceptional quality and comfortable journey along the way. Raw tours are lead by qualified wildlife professionals who take guests along roads less well-travelled and allow them truly unique learning experiences with exotic wildlife. Raw Wildlife Encounters fosters responsible tourism that benefits the local people, tribes and wildlife in all travel destinations through Raw’s Conservation Commitment programs.
According to the Head of the Legal and PR Office of the Aceh Regional Secretariat, Makmur Abrahim, the permit, for an area of 1.605ha of lush forest peatland in Tripa, within the protected Leuser Ecosystem, was withdrawn because PT Kallista Alam was considered to be violating the existing legal regulation.
After a long battle, the withdrawal of the permit demonstrates the Governments compliance with the law and is a warning to others not to flout the law and regulations in Aceh. “This is important for maintaining legal certainty in conducting business and in investing in Aceh, and thus benefits the common people,” said Teuku Muhammad Zulfikar, Executive Director of WALHI Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia).
The Leuser Ecosystem is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world, it the only place on earth where critically endangered key species, the Sumatran orangutan, tiger, elephant and rhinoceros co-exist. In 1990 there were almost 2,000 Orangutans in the Tripa Peat forest, today it could be less than 200 due to the ongoing and illegal clearance of forest for palm oil plantations.
This is a victory for environmentalists who have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the issue, launching a successful world-wide online campaign, Save Tripa, lead by Dr Ian Singleton, Director Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program and his team and colleagues at Walhi Aceh.Jessica McKelson, Director Raw Wildlife Encounters and Save Tripa activist said "The Save Tripa campaign has achieved its first major goal in the fight to save the Tripa peat forest. We congratulate the Aceh Government for taking this first important step in encouraging the Indonesian Government to enforce its own laws."
Author: Mark Keenan
I find it hard to describe what a safari experience in North Sumatra is like for those who enquire. I’m often asked, ‘How was your trip?’ or ‘Did you have a good time’ but rarely do I reply with anything more than a stupid grin and ‘it was brilliant’ or words to that effect.
The problem is that I am so enamored with North Sumatra and what we provide at RAW, that I struggle to put my experience into words. I can’t easily tell you how incredible the place is, how warm the people are, how yummy the food tastes, or how incredibly life changing the whole experience can be. Nor can I easily summarise just how much you do and see in two weeks. Well, not unless you are prepared to sit through a three-hour slideshow and accompanying David Attenborough style monologue. Sometimes pictures speak louder than the written word. Well, my words anyhow.
So it is lucky that every time I head to Sumatra, I am joined by free-spirited, adventurous people who put their faith in our company, in our knowledge, and in our North Sumatran friends to show them a once in a lifetime holiday. This is what of our recently returned guests thought of her time away with us:
'The reward at the end of a long and bumpy drive to Tangkahan – our first glimpse of the elephants and Green Lodge, our home for the next week. Instantly we relax, leaving behind the western world as the peaceful atmosphere works its magic. The days stretch out before us, filled with river tubing, jungle trekking, playing with the elephants, excellent food and great company. Who would have thought being on the go from morning until night could be so relaxing? Bathing the elephants, a traditional cooking class, sleeping in a cave, a night walk in the jungle, playing games and swimming with children from the village, the highlights of this trip are endless. And just when we thought nothing could top the experiences we already had, off we went on the four day Elephant Jungle Patrol. Four lovely days of riding through the jungle on elephant back, watching for Orangutans and other wildlife. Each night at the camps was spent getting to know our amazing jungle guides and mahouts. By the time we reached Bukit Lawang we were more like a family than just friends. It was an experience that touched the soul and the memories will never fade'.
- Alison Beal March 2012
This sort of feedback validates all of the energy we put into Raw Wildlife Encounters. I’d like to thank all of my March guests for an incredible fun packed trip, for their support of RAW, and especially to Ali for sharing her heartfelt words with us. I’m sure my family would love to hear of my adventures expressed as eloquently as this.
Unfortunately for them they will just have to sit through another ‘Sir Mark Attenborough’ slideshow instead.
All the Best!
Mark Keenan – RWE Tour Leader
Author: Rika Nauck
‘If a man does take a journey, he will have a story to tell’. This rather literal translation of a German proverb from the 18th century describes so nicely the old fashioned feeling that I experienced on my 2011 trip to Tangkahan.
Tangkahan! What a wonderfully exotic name, so full of promise. Although I learned about it from such a modern thing like the internet, I still felt like an explorer: I would see the rainforest for the first time in my life, hear the sounds, taste strange food, and smell the flavours of a completely different life.
And thus, a story to tell, I have!
I have been travelling before, not just in my own country, but to wonderful places elsewhere in the world. So, what is so different about this place in northern Sumatra?
The initial fascination surely came from the fact that the website offered a trip to see elephants and orangutans. How cool is that? The two types of animals, which caught my imagination since childhood days, both in one place! By the time all the arrangements were made I was fully primed for the wonder that hit me. Whoever truly fell in love, knows what I mean: One single moment in which the rest of the world does not matter anymore, in which the tears flow and one just knows…! That was I, standing above that river and watching this wall of green in front of me.
When the early night fell at Green Lodge, the generators allowed for the lights to switch on, and people would just sit, talk and play games, someone might get the guitar out and sing… and then the generators would die, the night would take charge, voices talking more softly, fireflies taking rains and the rainforest would become the host of the lodges.
But there is something else about Tangkahan. There is a shy confidence, if such a thing exists.
See, this is land that got in contact with our type of civilisation only some 200 years ago; around the same time when the above proverb was coined, when mainly men travelled, and when the purpose of travel was either to bring new wealth to the old world, or to spread the word of God. All over the world the destructive footprints of those activities are still visible, and although these days it is called globalisation and business, not a lot has changed. Local people are still used as cheap resource, and some of the methods used to keep them dependent are not too far from slavery. Land only gets respected when it brings profit and hence indigenous habitat gets destroyed together with the culture of the people living there.
The Karonese people of North Sumatra used to own that land; they defined themselves via the land rather then religion or nationality. To make a living they were then forced to work in the palm oil plantations or to log the forests, which used to give them everything they needed. And now the people of Tangkahan are claiming back control and other villages are following.
Eco Tourism is their new business, and that means they have to catch up fast. Quite a task for people who live in a place that Google Earth doesn’t find, and who, if they get lucky with the weather, have a good four-hour car ride to the next hospital.
It would be easy to take the ‘good-doer’ approach, to barge in with all our old world knowledge and money. It is exactly this ‘know-it-all’ approach, which neglects to allow the local people to take charge, causing charities to fail ever so often.
The Tangkahan people however, take charge, and they have strong alliances. Some ten years ago an Australian zoo keeper, just leaving her teenage years behind, visited for the first time … and went back year after year. She learned the language, learned about the culture, the destruction of the environment, and the needs of the people. Her name is Jessica McKelson, and she later would become the director of RAW Wildlife Encounters, the company I have been travelling with.
RAW is creating business in the area in a very controlled and responsible way. It is a company demanding high standards for hospitality, accommodation as well as ecology, and for that, fair wages are paid. Additionally RAW sponsors projects and grants, creating triple-win situations for the business, their travellers and the people of Tangkahan.
THAT is the big difference! Yes, my trip was more expensive than any other trip with the label ‘eco’ on it, but I could see there and then the impact of my money. I basically lived with the people. I got invited into their homes… and then I saw how the others worked and lived, the ones whose villages were in the middle of plantations; the ones who didn’t have that wonderful asset called rainforest. I gained a lot of perspective.
And this is not even my story. This is the background in front of which the stories unfold drawing me back to Tangkahan.
Drifting down a river in a tube made from a lorry tyre, just me sitting on top of the water navigating the shallow rapids. From far the shrieks of the others when the water hit their faces, then gentle drifting again, water buffalos, people minding their business, monkeys hanging from branches, drinking. Me-time with Tangkahan! Then we stop at pebbly beach, wet and happy we are about to meet ‘the English school’; about 20 children and their teacher are introducing themselves and singing for us – and my first thought is: What if it rains? Later that day I talked to Kristin, Jess’ right hand in Tangkahan, asking her for her biggest dream and her response was: A proper English school with a roof and a library!
Another one…The smell of the elephants, the noises they make when they ruffle the grass and the bushes, the tenderness of the trunks when sniffing for food, the warmth of their skin, and the tender assertiveness of the mahouts, guiding them over the most challenging terrain. How amazed was I on our last evening when one of the mahouts apologized for being rude. We all gave our final appraisals and farewell, and he apologized because he felt that at times he might have been too harsh to us when the situation demanded care for the elephants or vigilance for safety. He apologized for his bad English not allowing for the right words in stressful moments. I always thought of him as calm, wise and polite, I however could understand his wish for reliable communication. He closed his presentation with the words: I would like to learn better English, but I don’t know how.
Learning… learning is a big scheme that I found everywhere. The Tangkahan people are smart and have a thirst for knowledge, and they want the knowledge for the best of reasons: To be able to take their own decisions to sustain better lifestyles, and to sustain their environment.
Love for the land, the dream of a young lady, and the appreciation for a wise man are only some of the powerful threads which keep me grounded in Tangkahan. In April 2012 I will be back to meet again those incredible people, who have become friends in such a short time. I will be back to learn more about their land, and the challenges they are facing. I stayed in touch with Kristin, and we are working on her dream… We have big plans and first steps are made to upgrade ‘The English School’ to the ‘The Tangkahan Education Centre’, and to integrate it legally into the Tangkahan concept.
And we will have to find ways on how education can ‘pay for itself’. Until then, we might not entirely get away without donations… and hence I am working on creating a charity. But this will be an entirely new story!
Rika is a businesswoman, writer, inquisitive traveller, and Raw Supporter. She resides in the United Kingdom.
Retirement Islands for Orangutans
An innovative plan to create man-made islands for sick and injured orangutans in Indonesia is offering hope of a better life for animals who have previously been destined to spend their remaining days in cages.
While much of the fight to save the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan focuses on protecting their natural habitat, for some orangutans it is already too late.
Environmentalists say they are rescuing a growing number of orangutans that are unable to return to the wild because they are too ill or injured, often the result of coming into contact with humans.
Now, Australian zoo keepers, the Australian Orangutan Project and an eco-tourism company are partnering with an orangutan conservation group in Indonesia to raise money to buy land in Sumatra to create four “islands” where sick and injured orangutans could live in an environment more akin to their natural habitat, with staff on hand to care for them.
The plan is to dig moats around the land, which would prevent the orangutans, which cannot swim, from escaping. The animals can live for up to 50 years.
Four orangutans being cared for by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program have already been identified as possible residents of the planned islands, said Jessica McKelson, supervisor of the primates department at Melbourne Zoo and founder of Raw WildLife Encounters, the eco-tourism company involved in the project.
Ms. McKelson said one orangutan who could benefit from the project had been shot 62 times after wandering past a village on the edge of a forest. He was left blind after being shot in both eyes, and cannot return to the wild.
“He’s becoming large and mature and he really needs to get out of the cage,” said Ms. McKelson. Another orangutan the organizers hope to relocate has been diagnosed with the human strain of hepatitis B.
But first the organizers must find suitable land for the orangutans and raise money to lease the land.
Ms. McKelson said they hoped to raise 80,000 Australian dollars ($77,432) to lease about three hectares of land near the city of Medan, in north Sumatra. A clean water supply for the orangutans would be crucial.
There are also plans to establish an education center near the site to help teach locals about how they can live in harmony with orangutans, which is Indonesian for “man of the forest”.
Environmental groups blame palm oil and logging companies for encroaching on the animals’ natural habitat, and Ms. McKelson said villagers were increasingly coming into contact with orangutans as a result of deforestation. She said the animals sometimes approached villagers’ fruit trees, which could lead to conflict.
“We will be able to use this as a key education center to educate locals with the orangutans and also educate them about human-animal contact,” said Ms. McKelson, adding that there were an estimated 6,000 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild.
By LIZ GOOCH
November 25, 2011, 8:29 AM