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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.
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
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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."
Some of you will already know that, as part of Raw's ongoing conservation efforts, Director Jessica McKelson has co-founded the Earth 4 Orangutans project with SOCP Director Dr Ian Singleton.
The Earth 4 Orangutans (E4O) project aims to raise funds to purchase 30 hectares of land within the Sumatran rainforest and on it develop habitat for Orangutans unable to be re-released into the wild, along with a sanctuary for other endangered species, an education centre for conservation awareness for the general public and employment for local communities.
During September, Raw and other E4O partners will be hosting range of fundraising and public speaking events in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth where you will have the opportunity to hear Ian and Jess speak about his journey, orangutans, conservation, the current environmental catastrophe in Tripa and of course the Earth 4 Orangutans Project.
Melbourne 5 September 2012
Time: 5.30pm finger food provided, 6.30pm lecture begins
Location: LT1A Deakin University Burwood Campus
RSVP: Is essential as there are limited seats available. You are more than welcome to bring family / friends but they must also register. Please visit http://earth4orangutans.eventbrite.com.au to reserve your seat. Gold coin donations can be made at the event with all proceeds going directly to the Earth 4 Orangutans Project.
Melbourne 7 September 2012
Join us for good food, great music and a unique insight into the lives of Orangutans. Dinner guests will enjoy:
- 2 course meal, drinks from 7-9pm included.
- Entertainment by local bands including Big Winter, The Sulphur Creek Project and more.
- The opportunity to hear Dr Ian Singleton, co-founder of the Earth 4 Orangutans project and Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, speak about his journey, the project and the current situation in S.E. Asia.
- Silent Auction
- Or, you can join us after dinner just for the entertainment!
All proceeds go directly to the Earth 4 Orangutans Project.
Adelaide 13 September 2012
The only opportunity in Adelaide to join Dr Ian Singleton for dinner and drinks for the evening.
Location: The Atrium, Hackney Hotel, 95 Hackney Rd, Hackney.
Tickets $60 and include:
- 3 course meal
- Live music
- Huge Silent Auction
(Tables of 10 available. Vegetarian and vegan options available – please make meal requirements known at time of booking).
For more info or to book email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brisbane 15 September 2012
Movie Night with The Orangutan Project
Time: 4pm - 6pm
Location: University of Queensland, St. Lucia Campus - Seddon Building Room 82D - 101
Price: Adults $20, Pensions/Students $5, Children under 15 Free. All proceeds go directly to the E4O project.
Along with Dr Ian Singleton's talk, the afternoon will include screening of a conservation documentary, raffle and lucky door prize. Payment at the door.
To reserve a seat email Marion at email@example.com
Perth 28 September 2012
Public lecture - Murdoch University. More details to come.
Most of the Raw Crew will be at the Melbourne events and would love to see some familiar faces!
See you there!
Author: Hotli Simanjuntak
Source: The Jakarta Post, Aceh Tamiang, Aceh | Fri, 02/17/2012 9:53 AM
Photo - Moving: An evacuation team examines a newly caught orangutan. The animals that are rescued are frequently found skinny and malnourished.
One morning, an orangutan evacuation team arrived in a hilly area with only a few rubber trees left in Aceh Tamiang.
The 15-member team from the Leuser Ecosystem Management Agency (BPKEL), the Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP), the Orangutan Information Center (OIC) and the Aceh Orangutan Forum (FORA) was walking on red soil newly leveled for plantations.
The red land, cleared of rubber trees by workers of PT Bahruny, an estate company owned by Oil Palm Business Association (GAPKI) chair Joefly J Bahroeny, is located in Rimba Sawang village, Aceh Tamiang, bordering North Sumatra.
Atop an almost dead rubber tree was an orangutan and its one-year-old offspring, sitting and basking in the morning sun.
Their long, golden brown hair was in sharp contrast to their skinny bodies due to undernourishment.
“These orangutans were trapped in this location as workers started felling rubber trees for oil palm plants,” said OIC volunteer Krisna Ketapel.
Krisna is a local resident recruited by the OIC, an NGO engaged in watching over and monitoring orangutans emerging from forestland to enter the estates around his village home in Rimba Sawang.
The team’s visit to the plantations was meant to evacuate the orangutans isolated in the location, where only a small number of rubber trees can still be found. The other hills around it were already denuded and converted into circling terraces for oil palm planting.
The presence of orangutans was detected before they were slaughtered by estate workers while leveling the area. “We estimate hundreds of them are still trapped with the widespread land clearing operation for new plantations,” Krisna said.
Krisna has often witnessed orangutans going down to the estates near his village, usually from the protected forest in the Leuser ecosystem zone, only four kilometers from the closest plantations.
Rampant illegal logging and land reclamation for estates are seen as considerably disturbing the habitat of orangutans in the areas adjacent to the Leuser zone. The activity also increases the intensity of conflict between wildlife like tigers and elephants and man.
“In the last two to three years we’ve been informed of the orangutans frequently trapped in estates particularly in Aceh or North Sumatra border areas or asked to evacuate them,” said Ian Singleton, director of the SOCP.
The SOCP is a collaboration between the government and several NGOs like PanEco Switzerland, the Lestari Ecosystem Foundation (YEL) and the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) in Germany, focusing on orangutan conservation in Sumatra and covering orangutan rescue, quarantine and release.
Previously, the SOCP evacuated orangutans from several locations in Aceh and North Sumatra. In addition, it also confiscated protected animals from individuals or orangutans from communities that had domesticated them.
According to Ian Singleton, the opening of estate areas in Aceh Tamiang began in 2005 in the early period of peaceful agreement between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government. Prior to the accord, land clearing wasn’t so widespread because Aceh was embroiled in armed conflict.
Now, when there’s conflict between animals and men during reclamation, estate owners tend to urge NGOs or environmental activists to intervene by moving or catching the animals without understanding the underlying causes of the problem. Estate companies are even prepared to fund the relocation of trapped orangutans.
“The media has frequently initiated the discourse that estate companies should contact NGOs or authorized agencies when they find orangutans in their land clearing areas for relocation,” noted Singleton. In his view, this is not a desirable solution, nor will it be favorable to the animals concerned. In reality, this method doesn’t much prevent the slaughter of orangutans lost in plantations.
Photo - Evacuation: A government-NGO joint evacuation team rescues newly caught orangutans to be released to the nearest forest suitable for them to live.
“We’re convinced the number of orangutans killed in the process of land clearing has been far bigger than the total rescued, especially in areas where the government and environmental activists find it hard to monitor,” he said. In Aceh Tamiang, there are tens of thousands of hectares of rubber and oil palm estates owned by estate firms and individuals, mostly bordering the Leuser ecosystem – recognized by UNESCO as one of the world’s ecosystems.
The BPKEL managing the zone has revoked estate licenses many times for encroaching on protected forestland within the Leuser ecosystem.
Since 2009, the BPKEL has canceled 26 estate permits for illegal operations in restricted areas, covering 3,700 hectares of oil palm plantations and thousands of hectares of land already cleared but not yet planted.
“The pressure on this conservation zone will be greater and more severe unless strict control is exercised, particularly with the opening of an access road in the area close to Leuser,” said Badrul, conservation manager of the BPKEL. To prevent graver damage and the loss of rare animals’ habitats, this agency has been restoring the original estates and forest areas by replanting them with various trees.
— Photos by Hotli Simanjuntak
Author: Thomas King
Over the past thirty years the demand for palm oil has been rapidly increasing on a global scale. This widely used vegetable oil was originally from Western Africa, despite the Malaysian Palm Oil Council claiming that palm oil is “the world’s gift to Malaysia”. The industry is at an all time high and is expected to grow substantially in the new year due to the oil’s low-cost and diversity in use. You could say that palm oil is like the most popular kid in the schoolyard of manufacturing.
Whether it be the baked goods, spreads and confectionery that we all love to eat, or the shampoos and soaps we use to make our hair and skin silky smooth… palm oil is all around us. It’s even found in the toothpaste we brush our teeth with each day and possibly even the fuel we pump into our cars!
Lets face it – palm oil is virtually impossible to eliminate entirely from our lives. Which is frustrating knowing that it is having detrimental impacts on the environment, indigenous people and wildlife of South East Asia, and has the ability to dramatically worsen cardiovascular health.
Surely in 2012 we can begin to make a transition into a more sustainable form of palm oil production? This is the question on many people’s minds. But my question is: how can a crop plantation that only lasts approximately 25 years, and then leaves the soil desolate, possibly be considered sustainable? Yes palm oil is a very high-yielding vegetable oil, and it’s all well-and-dandy for my parent’s generation to say that palm oil is currently our most sustainable option as far as vegetable oils go, but what about when I’m their age? When the islands of Borneo and Sumatra are barren wastelands that have been raped by the palm oil industry? When species like the Sumatran orangutan, tiger and rhinoceros no longer exist? When the delicate ecosystems that this planet cannot survive without are obliterated and the valuable carbon stores burnt-up?
There are so many questions but unfortunately not enough answers. And often when someone formulates an answer - a possible solution to an issue of this nature - it is usually struck down by “competing” individuals and organisations within the cause. I’ve seen this time and time again; like-minded people who are working towards the exact same mission let their egos dominate their morals. As a young person, I often feel helpless as I watch these adults bullying one another while my future quality-of-life slowly deteriorates. There is always going to be disagreement and difference of opinion, and with that comes a tangled web of politics – but how much longer can this kind of behaviour continue? With the current state of the planet, we have no time for it.
Governments, big business and the world’s palm oil councils will tell you otherwise, but the bottom line is that palm oil is a short-term commodity, which is not only destroying rainforest, endangered species and indigenous culture, but ultimately my future. Small steps such as avoiding palm oil, companies adopting “sustainable” practices and implementing palm oil labeling laws are great in the short-term, but they are still not enough to protect our planet once the current generations are no longer here.
It’s another one of those large dilemmas fueled by human ignorance and overpopulation… can we devise a long-term solution before it’s too late?
The best time to act was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.
To learn more about palm oil you can visit my website: www.saynotopalmoil.com
In addition to managing his extensive SAY NO TO PALM OIL website, Thomas volunteers for AOP and is dynamically involved in all aspects of raising awareness about palm oil and its impact on the environment.
Author: Mark Keenan
A lot of people I meet tell me that working as a zookeeper would be just about their dream vocation. Yes it’s true; in many ways I am incredibly fortunate. I work with amazing animals and in connection with inspiring individuals. I have also been a part of some great zoo-based conservation initiatives, including the “Don’t Palm Us Off” campaign that helped develop awareness of Palm Oil in this country.
Yet as satisfying as this public awareness campaign proved to be, I still wanted the opportunity to immerse myself in the challenges facing South East Asia, in person, to make a difference at ground level and help produce tangible conservation results.
For me, the chance to work with RWE granted my wish, providing an opportunity to take like-minded individuals into the heart of palm oil plantations, to witness the environmental and social devastation, and to meet the people who are helping slow the destruction in order to preserve one of the world’s most unique and valuable biological ecosystems.
It is incredibly exciting that we can support the community of Tangkahan as custodians of the forest. Everyone I have taken to Tangkahan has been changed in one way or another, touched by the culture, the people, the beauty of the jungle and it’s wild inhabitants.
RWE inspires people. In Tangkahan a powerful message is continually re-enforced and acted upon, that the community can sustain future generations without destroying their forest homelands. Whilst here in Australia, past guests champion efforts to save the forests of North Sumatra and form the foundation of fundraising efforts that see RWE invest continuously in conservation programs in the region.
In what could only be described as a perk of the job, I also get to spend time surrounded by one of the most beautiful environments on the planet. Picture pristine, fast-flowing rivers with crystal-clear green waters and soaring jungle-covered hilltops. Add to this the distinct calls of Hornbills, Siamangs, and White Handed Gibbons. Sprinkle in some Elephants, Orangutans, Otters, and Slow Loris - maybe even a Tiger or two - and you have life in Tangkahan on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park. Couple this with two weeks spent with the most friendly, gracious, and inspirational hosts you’re likely to meet and you have a RAW adventure.
I distinctly remember my first time in Tangkahan … thinking this place is so perfect and yet so delicately balanced. It’s an incredible part of the world and offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience one of South East Asia’s great final frontiers. I whole-heartedly encourage you to join us on one of our tours for what will prove a life changing adventure!
Mark is a Raw Tour Leader and dedicated advocate for active conservation of marine ecosystems and forest habitats.
Author: Amber Partington
For years I had sat behind a computer organising, emailing and fundraising to help save Orangutans for the Australian Orangutan Project. My journey with them had started long before I had even seen one in the flesh. So my first encounter was, of course, in the orang-utan tourist capital, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. I was the typical tourist, I had never even entered the jungles of Borneo before, all geared up & so excited I could hardly contain myself. Then all of a sudden there they were. I saw through the trees for the first time this little orange furry blob, a youngster of around 3-4 years of age. My heart was racing, they were just so gorgeous. “Time up” the ranger announces – “but it felt like we only just got here” I proclaimed! Deep down I hated being that tourist, standing there on a manmade platform watching orangutan’s act in such a way a truly wild orang-utan would not behave. But finally I could say I had seen one.
So I went home, more dedicated than ever to help save these little guys. Back to the computer, countless emails and fundraising. Then midway through 2010 after starting at Melbourne Zoo as a Primate Keeper, an inspirational young lady, named Jessica McKelson asked me, “Would you like to be one of my Tour Guides leading tours in North Sumatra?” What an opportunity I thought! Jess could sense my excitement and advised, “Why don’t you head over and see if you like it and then let me know!” I already knew the answer would be yes!
As I trundled through the jungles of North Sumatra on my first tour, I felt like I had grown up in this environment my whole life. The sounds, the sights and smells – I took it all in and loved every minute of it! After 2 weeks of witnessing outstanding beauty in the jungle, tubing down rivers, swimming under waterfalls, witnessing wild animals and getting to know the local people, I was sad to leave. I also had some sad lows, when walking through Palm Oil plantations and witnessing the extent of the devastation. The people and places had changed me in ways I could not imagine. It made me appreciate life in a way which nothing had done so before.
So why is it that I am a part of the Raw team? And why does it inspire me? The answer is simple. I want to preserve the landscape of Northern Sumatra more than anything in the world. Sumatra has seen around 90% of its original forest lost which I think is a travesty for the people, the animals and the world.
By taking people into these environments I am able to teach them and hopefully inspire them to help save a small part of the world’s forests because whether we like to think of it or not – we need trees. Soon it will be, that we will lose enigmatic species like orangutans, elephants and tigers in the wild. If I can help this from happening and I believe Raw is helping – I think this will be a very rewarding feeling. ☺
Amber is a Raw Tour Leader and Victorian State Representative for the Australian Orangutan Project (AOP)