Guardians of endangered wildlife, local communities and the climate
The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia is the last place on earth where orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers co-exist in the wild. Over 35 times the size of Singapore, this ancient ecosystem is globally recognised as one of the richest expanses of tropical rainforest found anywhere in Southeast Asia, and is one of Asia’s largest carbon sinks.
Despite the Leuser Ecosystem having a protected legal status as a National Strategic Area for its Environmental Protection Function, prohibiting any activities that reduce this function, including cultivation and infrastructure development, its deforestation has continued at an alarming rate. Indonesia now has the highest deforestation rate in the world and Sumatra has the worst deforestation rate in Indonesia. Poor forest governance, weak law enforcement and destructive government policies are currently failing the Leuser Ecosystem. Illegal palm oil and other plantations, logging, mining, road development, encroachment and fires are increasingly destroying its integrity. These problems combine to create the ideal conditions for human-wildlife conflict and rampant poaching.
HAkA is one of the vital guardians of Aceh’s environment and community, fighting to protect and restore the irreplaceable Leuser Ecosystem and its unique biodiversity. They believe a stronger and healthier Aceh can be created through an empowered civil society whose members contribute to the wellbeing of the province. Local community participation in land-use planning decisions allows the traditional wisdom of sustainable forest management to be used in the design of socially and environmentally responsible policy.HAkA therefore works in collaboration with grassroots organisations, local communities, NGOs, technical experts and government agencies to give the community access to the tools and knowledge to be involved in planning decisions. This results in long-term change and ensures conservation is fully socialised and supported.
In Tamiang district in the south east of Aceh, over 4,000 hectares of protected forest had been illegally destroyed for oil palm plantations over recent decades. These plantations destroyed a Sumatran elephant migration route from the south to the north of the Leuser Ecosystem, replacing it with a monoculture of oil palm native to Africa. This fragmented Sumatran elephant populations and caused human-wildlife conflict, while also removing the flood protection the forest had provided, compromising the safety and livelihoods of local communities in the area.
HAkA supported local organisations and community groups working with regional government and district police to restore this critical forest. After much work behind the scenes, the first 1,000 hectares of palm oil plantation was cleared, ready for restoration of the forest. Thousands more illegal oil palms are now being marked for destruction. After this monoculture is removed, the forest can regenerate quickly under the watchful eye of HAka’s patrol teams and can begin to provide a critical habitat for elephants and orangutans once again. In just five short years the first 1,000 hectares were fully restored.
Through collaboration with local groups and local government, HAkA is making a huge difference in Aceh province to retain and regrow the Leuser Ecosystem. Deforestation in the province last year (2017) fell 18% from 2016 — a trend they attribute to better law enforcement and intensified campaigning about the importance of protecting the unique Leuser Ecosystem. Other positive developments include a government block on oil palm planters clearing peatlands, however many operators continue to clear these vital areas with impunity. HAkA continues to tirelessly work and campaign against future threats to the ecosystem, from road projects and planned hydropower and geothermal plants. To protect the people of Aceh, endangered species and the vital role of the Leuser ecosystem in capturing carbon, HAkA remains a courageous guardian.