A young Sumatran orangutan female in Gunung Leuser
Understanding Sumatran orangutans: a key to protect them!
By Fabien Garnier – SOS Conservation Programme Manager
In the Leuser Ecosystem, located in Aceh and North Sumatra provinces, Indonesia, rainforests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Illegal logging, infrastructure development, energy projects, non sustainable land use plans and the expansion of monocultures are taking a toll on the Sumatran orangutans habitat, leaving them more and more vulnerable to poaching, hunting and traffic. While we understand that economic development is essential for local communities and poverty alleviation, but to reach sustainable development and our conservation goals, we need all actors to understand why Sumatran orangutans and their habitat are so important.
That’s why our Human Orangutan Conflict Response Units (HOCRU) do not focus on translocation of isolated orangutans or freeing illegal kept great apes only. A huge part of their work is dedicated to raise awareness about conservation issues among local populations. Two main publics are targeted: schools, as the children of today are the conservation leaders of tomorrow, and farmers, as they suffer from orangutans raiding their crops.
In schools, our teams are presenting Sumatran orangutans and their habitat, explaining why they are vital to the whole ecosystem and how they live. During the last 3 months, more than 200 students have been reached by our teams during school sessions based on interactions, games, songs and the distribution of booklets and brochures. As Samira, a 14 years old schoolgirl of Babarok village: “We live next to orangutans, and they look like nice pets, especially when they are babies. But today I understood that they are wild animals, beautiful and mighty, but wild, and their house is the rainforest”. Muhammad, 15 years old, added: “Now I understand them, I learnt to love them and I want to protect them. They are so similar to us in many aspects, but also so special. Yes, they are unique”.
With smallholders and local farmers, the issue is different. With the rainforest being logged and chopped down, Sumatran orangutans tend to come closer to villages and crops. Some farmers can lose a huge part of their income when a single orangutan is raiding their fruit trees. But solutions exist: bamboo cannon to scare away orangutans, avoiding planting crops near the forest border and calling HOCRU teams when orangutans are spotted by villagers. These village meetings are essential to change the perception of villagers toward orangutans. They can become forests stewards and the first conservationists in the field. Brahim, 38 years old, told us: “For me, orangutans were pests. When they come into my durian plantation, the result can be catastrophic for me and my family. But HOCRU team introduced us to conflict mitigation technics. And if these were to fail, we know they are here to help us. No, killing orangutans is not the solution, we have ways to live together in harmony”.
Between March and May 2017, our 2 HOCRU teams also conducted 7 translocations of isolated orangutans and rescued 2 illegally kept babies. Additionnally, they conducted field surveys to identify new and safe release sites. A wonderful work that would not be possible without your help and support.
Thank you for your invaluable support of this vital work.
Fabien Garnier, Conservation Programme Manager
Sumatran Orangutan Society
School visit in Babarok village
Working closely with local farmers
Rescue of a male orangutan raiding crops