Conservation in unprotected areas -reply to comments

Thank you to everyone who has recently left comments, especially about Brian and Rosa’s release – they do mean a lot to our staff (Rosa, lovely to hear from you and of course the orangutan Rosa was named after you. Rosa was our vet who previously work at the orangutan care centre). I’d like to respond to Louis McCarten, who left a comment about Belantikan’s protection - 'I think it is time to press the Indonesian government to provide actual legal protection to the Belantikan rain forest. And quickly. I do not see a future for the biodiversity here if this is not attempted (and financed). Why not a Belantikan National Park? Better that than a Belantikan alan alang wasteland (or yet another oil palm plantation the world doesn’t need–which of course is what is the world is going to get if we don’t do something to save the Belantikan). 

Your point about Belantikan needing protection is entirely reasonable and this is why we are working in this area. Belantikan has the world’s largest population of orangutans outside of a protected area and it is important for many other ecological reasons.  However, the situation in Belantikan it isn’t black and white - there are many factors to consider when deciding how best to protect a high conservation value forest area. Designating the forests as a national park isn’t the answer either. We must deal with the reasons behind deforestation otherwise they will persist despite the change in land status, as we have witnessed in other Indonesian national parks.  

A lot of the land is community owned, adat and so rightfully it is the local people who make the decisions about their land.  The logging concessions are legal and still have many years left before they expire. However, rather than seeing these as only negative factors we need to find a way to work together.   

A co-operative management approach, where all the stakeholders (local communities, logging concessions, government) are recognised, have a voice and are taken notice of is one of our aims. The Belantikan Conservation Programme, funded by the United Nations Environment Programme – Great Ape Survival Partnership, began in 2005 and it is attempting to engage and work with all the stakeholders of Belantikan.   

One of our objectives is to see more of the area designated as protected forests (not national park) therefore maintaining key ecosystem functions, such as watersheds.  We are also helping the local communities, who are highly dependent on the forests, to earn a living that is ecologically and economically viable.  The communities have to make vital decisions about their land (whether to sell to oil palm companies, lease to timber concessions, how to farm it) and through increased education and awareness we can help them to understand the future implications of their decisions.

It is terribly depressing that you have to drive for 6 hours through uninterrupted oil palm plantations before you reach the forests and it is upsetting to think of all the wildlife that has been lost.  Our work in Belantikan is still in it infancy and we are working to set strong foundations for what we hope will be a future for these forests, its village communities and the wildlife. However, the ultimately responsibility lies with the Indonesian government and it will be to their detriment, as well as everybody else’s, if they fail to make the right choices. 

Thank you,

Cathy - Orangutan Foundation (UK office)