Statement of Need
There is an urgent need for conservation action in order to retain viable wild populations of orangutans. Once widespread throughout the forests of Southeast Asia, they are now confined to two islands in Indonesia and Malaysia, where two genetically distinct species exist: the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus). Between 1950-2000, 40% of Indonesia’s forests were cleared, reducing ground cover to 98 million hectares (FWI/GFW, 2002). Forest cover in Sumatra was reduced by 61% from 1985-1997 due to logging, infrastructure development, internal migration, and plantation development (McConkey, 2005), and there are now less than 900,000 hectares of orangutan habitat left standing on the island, restricted to the northernmost provinces of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and North Sumatra (Singleton et al., 2004). Habitat loss has not been restricted to private land, as vast tracts of the Gunung Leuser National Park, part of the UNESCO “Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra” World Heritage Site, which is also located within the Leuser Ecosystem (considered the last stronghold of the Sumatran orangutan), have also been degraded or converted and lost to plantation agriculture. Populations have declined from an estimated 12,770 in 1994, to an estimated 6,624 in 2008, with the downward trend continuing to this day (Singleton et al., 2004; Wich et al., 2008). Thus the Sumatran orangutan is now classified as Critically Endangered and listed as one of the top 25 most endangered primates in the world (IUCN, 2008).
Experts in the field of orangutan conservation agree that the conversion of high conservation value forests to monoculture oil palm plantations is now the most urgent threat to the orangutans’ continued existence in the wild (Buckland, 2005; Nellemann et al., 2007). As land is cleared for development, this can cause wildlife, including orangutans, to be forced into sparse forest fragments with poor resource availability and low carrying capacity (Nellemann et al, 2007), and/or crossing through or becoming isolated on lands developed by humans, which can result in crop-raiding or unintentional crop damage. Perceived as a threat to both the community and profits, these endangered and protected species, flagships for the conservation of rainforests, are considered as pests and are killed or captured and sold into the pet trade (Brown and Jacobson, 2005; Nijman, 2005; Shepherd et al., 2005).
Thus it was the goal of the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) to initiate the Plantation Roadshows Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation Programme to enhance the engagement of local communities in conservation activities in orangutan habitat areas and stimulate community-led solutions to human-orangutan conflict issues. The acceleration of further plantation development has dramatically increased incidents of direct conflict between humans and orangutans (Yuwono et al, 2007, Husson et al, 2002), resulting in substantial economic losses in areas bordering protected areas (Hill 1997, Naughton-Treves et al, 1998). However the assumption often made by farmers: that orangutans enter plantations in order to raid crops for food, is a misconception, as in actuality it is more likely that due to decreased habitat availability the animals are often obliged to cross through these lands to move between isolated forest fragments.
The roadshow programme took place in 18 villages adjacent to orangutan habitat located in the Langkat and Pak-Pak Barat districts of the North Sumatra province of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. This involved a series of screenings of targeted conservation films focusing on the orangutan and the destruction of its habitat, with the screening and distribution of a specialised conflict mitigation training film for orangutan encounters in plantations. Active and passive techniques to mitigate conflict were also introduced and demonstrated, so that local people better understand the issues and are able to implement the techniques which are safe for both orangutans and people. The roadshow was also accompanied by interactive focus group discussions, the collection of data regarding local communities’ attitudes towards conservation and their environment through questionnaires and semi-structured interviews, and complementary outreach activities such as educational exhibitions.
In total 1,694 people participated in the programme, with over 2,500 reached through general education and awareness efforts and materials distributed. It is apparent that those involved in the training were better prepared to coexist with their animal neighbours, through an improved perception of orangutans and also an increased ability to deal with any problems in a humane, nonlethal manner. Also through the more generalized environmental educational aspect of the initiative, they gained better knowledge and awareness about the importance of protecting orangutans and their forest homes.
Read full report by downloading the Oil-Palm Plantation Roadshows Performance Report Final in PDF Version.