During the period of January-March 2009, the Sumatran Orangutan Ecotourism Development Project focused primarily on the preparation and implementation of tour guide training. It is crucial that the guides have a high level of knowledge on the forest, as well as associated conservation issues, so that they can pass on this information to national and international visitors, as well as their local communities.
However, previous to this programme there was very little educational value to the Bukit Lawang (BL) experience, with tourist guides not holding much information themselves on the orangutans and their forest homes. Thus the OIC has initiated a series of training sessions that serve to disseminate and instill effective and ethical interpretive guiding to members of HPI, the local guide association, which administers operating licenses for both Bukit Lawang and the Tangkahan area (a nearby site which also borders the Gunung Leuser National Park, most well-known for hosting an ex-captive Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatrensis) population used in forest trekking and tourism, as well as Gunung Leuser National Park (GLNP) rangers, whom all visitors both foreign and domestic must have accompany them in order to enter the forest.
The training programme itself consists of four modules, covering various issues including:
- 1. Ecotourism;
- 2. Conservation Education Training;
- 3. Search and Rescue / First Aid;
- 4. Publication and Documentation.
This, along with subsequent improved enforcement of national park guidelines will help ensure the health and safety of the orangutans and other wildlife in the park (as well as the visitors themselves), whilst adding to local community knowledge through the capacity building nature of the training. Thereafter they will be better able to serve the tourism industry, resulting in visitors becoming more informed themselves on the orangutan conservation situation, as well as that of rainforests in general.
Without these crucial factors of maintaining responsible visitor/guide behaviour in the forest, as well as imparting education onto those visitors, the site loses any resemblance to an ecotourism destination and instead becomes a wildlife tourism centred operation. Such tourism is not sustainable for wildlife, the GLNP, nor the local community and their livelihoods; thus it is paramount that programmes such as this take place and the region brought up to standard with other great ape ecotourism sites.
For complete information about Gunung Leuser Ecotourism Development Programme: Progress Report 1, please download the report on PDF file.