Helping hands:: Residents from Halaban village plant trees on critical land at the national park. JP/Indra Harsaputra Director of the Aceh branch of the Indonesian Environment Forum (Walhi), Teuku Muhammad Zulfikar, said the clean water crisis had affected people not only in North Sumatra but also the Leuser ecosystem zone (KEL) in Aceh. Thousands of people in Aceh are threatened by this crisis, which has the potential for a clean-water and food-chain conflict between different communities and between humans and animals.
“The clean water crisis has resulted from not only forest conversion into estates but also the entry of mines into the protected forest of the Leuser ecosystem zone,” he maintained. Data from the Aceh Mining and Energy Office show that 40 mining companies have secured business licenses in Nagan Raya, South Aceh, Southwest Aceh and Singky, all areas within the KEL. “Dozens of illegal gold miners in Aceh have entered this zone like the Alue Tringgadeng protected forest, Lebah Sabil district and Southwest Aceh regency,” said Zulfikar.
Owing to forest squatting, collaborative reports from the government and several NGOs, such as PanEco Swiss, the Ekosistem Lestari Foundation (YEL) and the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) of Germany, have revealed that in the past two to three years, Sumatran orangutans have been caught in oil palm estates on the North Sumatra — Aceh border.
The Orangutan Information Center (OIC) said the total number of orangutans killed and captured in the KEL for illegal trading reached 300 annually including other primates, such as gibbons and macaques. Founding director of the OIC, Panut Hadisiswoyo, said the primates were seen as a threat to the estates while, in fact, orangutans were among the world’s 25 most endangered primates as declared by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“Estate workers see orangutans as searching for food while these primates enter the estates after their habitat has been destroyed,” he said, adding that Sumatran orangutans were illegally sold for US$5,000 each in Singapore, while other primates in Indonesia fetched around Rp150,000 (US$15.9) each.
Ecotourism:: A group of tourists enjoy the beauty of the national park from the Leuser River.“The government hasn’t yet obliged palm oil companies to restore the damaged habitat in Leuser,” Panut indicated. Besides orangutans, Sumatran rhinos in Leuser, Way Kambas and Bukit Barisan National Park have also declined in population numbers to between 210 and 275, from the previous level of between 420 and 875.
The high rate of forest destruction in Indonesia led to the prediction by the World Water Forum II in The Hague in March 2000 that Indonesia was one of several countries that would experience a water crisis in 2025. With the lack of Indonesia’s commitment to nature conservation, the US through its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued in 2012 a Notice of Data Availability (NODA) concerning oil palm-
induced carbon emissions, while considering the oil palm unsuitable for use in US biofuel production.
“We hope the government will seriously handle conservation in Leuser as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has declared 2012 the year of the rhino,” said a member of the board of directors with the Leuser International Foundation, Jamal M Gawi. Executive director of the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers’ Association (GAPKI), Fadhil Hasan, said all palm oil companies in Indonesia would be committed to the environment and act in compliance with government regulations.
— JP/Indra Harsaputra