Helen says: “No matter how many trees we plant, the most essential element of successful rainforest restoration is the true, deep engagement of the communities who live next to the Leuser Ecosystem in becoming protectors of the forest, and defending its borders from future threats.”
Now, SOS is launching a new campaign supported by Lush, to reforest 50 hectares of what was once diverse orangutan habitat.
The people on the ground
Over 13,000km from the UK, SOS’s sister organisation, the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC), is working at the heart of the crisis in Sumatra.
Panut Hadisiswoyo, the founder of the Indonesian NGO, says: “Orangutans are my inspiration. I believe I was chosen to dedicate my life to help the orangutans. SOS helped me to set up OIC and now they are our lifelong partner, which works with us in achieving our shared goal: conserving Sumatran orangutans and their forest homes.”
This is another group with a list of success stories in the face of an overwhelming situation. OIC has delivered projects on the ground in partnership with SOS, including the restoration of more than 2,000 hectares of degraded forests that have become a natural habitat for orangutans; saving the lives of more than 100 orangutans stranded in plantations; and rescuing more than 50 orangutans from illegal captivity.
According to Panut, the solution to the problem lies in engaging and educating the local community, pushing the government authorities to enforce nature conservation laws, and improving local community livelihoods.
He says, “Local people are part of the problem, but they must be part of the solution. The best way to overcome further destruction is making local people key actors in tackling the problem.”
If the situation is not resolved, Panut says there is no future for orangutans.
Saving a species
The crisis in Sumatra may feel like a world away for many people, but it could have an impact closer to home.
“What happens in Sumatra in terms of deforestation issues and the loss of biodiversity can trigger climate change and thus affect the whole planet and many lives on it. We are all living on one planet and we must work together to prevent catastrophe and appreciate our own nature,” Panut says.
As organisations like SOS and OIC fight for the survival of mankind’s primate cousins, they are playing a vital role in ensuring orangutans are not wiped out. There is enough space, SOS says, for orangutans and humans to coexist. Whether orangutans can ever be at peace now lies in the hands of mankind.
Photos from top: Orangutan courtesy of Andrew Walmsley; Orangutan rescue courtesy of SOS