Sumatran environmentalist wins Whitley Fund for Nature award

10010033_386833914848126_6860987801774639263_oThe director of the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) in Sumatra, Panut Hadisiswoyo, has won a prestigious Whitley Fund for Nature award.

The Princess Royal presented Hadisiswoyo with the 2015 Whitley Award for Conservation in Ape Habitats, which is donated by the Arcus Foundation, at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London yesterday (Wednesday).

The Whitley Fund says their awards honour “exceptional individuals who, through their outstanding conservation work in developing countries, are redefining the way people engage with the natural world in the 21st century”.

Hadisiswoyo has been awarded £35,000 (about 54,000 US$), which will be used to expand the OIC’s network of conservation villages and its Community Agroforestry, Reforestation and Education (CARE) programme to a new region bordering the Gunung Leuser National Park.

The OIC will establish sustainable agriculture schemes with 100 farmers, and plant 66,000 trees at the new site. The team will also focus on raising awareness about the importance of orangutan and forest conservation in an education project that will reach 1,200 people in communities surrounding the park.

Hadisiswoyo said the award was a recognition of the OIC’s commitment to protecting the orangutans and tropical rainforest in Sumatra into the indefinite future.

In his speech at the award ceremony, he said that the forest provided clean water and protection from natural disasters. “I would like to dedicate this Whitley award to the organgutans, the forest, and the people of Sumatra,” he said. “I am now calling on everyone who is in a position to take action to work together with me to save what remains of my country’s rainforest.”

The renowned environmentalist, Sir David Attenborough, who is a trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “Whitley award winners are simply exceptional people – passionate individuals who are committed to achieving positive environmental impact and long-term conservation and community benefits.”

with attenboroughHadisiswoyo with Sir David Attenborough.

Helen Buckland, director of the OIC’s UK-based sister organisation, the Sumatran Orangutan Society, was at the award ceremony. She said: “It was absolutely wonderful to watch Panut receive his award. We set up the OIC with Panut 15 years ago, and we’ve been on an incredible journey with him and his team ever since. I am so proud of what we are achieving in Sumatra, and this award will really help to shine a spotlight on the threats facing orangutans and their precious habitat.”

Hadisiswoyo is one of seven people who were awarded a share of prize funding worth £245,000 (about 378,000 US$).

The founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, Edward Whitley, said: “The calibre of this year’s Whitley awards winners is outstanding.  Although they each face remarkable and different challenges in their home countries, these exceptional individuals are passionate about securing a better future for both people and wildlife. The Whitley awards are a celebration of their efforts and achievements.”

Hadisiswoyo founded the OIC in 2001 and leads the CARE programme, which works with people living around the national park. Through successful interventions with farming communities, such as training in agroforestry and organic farming techniques, farmers have increased crop yields by 25 percent and improved their profit, reducing people’s need to expand farmland into the forest.

More than a million trees have been planted on degraded land, enabling the return of orangutans and other endangered species to areas that had been deforested for oil palms.

P1080232 (480x640)Hadisiswoyo at the OIC restoration site in the Sei Betung area.

The IOC’s new project is focused on Bukit Mas, which is next to the national park.

“Agroforestry training will empower the agricultural community of Bukit Mas to increase productivity and profitability from existing croplands in this area, where farming is the primary driver for deforestation,” Hadisiswoyo said. “Reforestation activities will restore vital damaged orangutan habitat, and community-wide education and outreach will inspire the people to become guardians of the forests.

“Our holistic approach will result in decreased pressure on the ecosystem, providing greater security for orangutans and the many other species that share the habitat.”

The Gunung Leuser National Park lies within the Leuser Ecosystem, which is the only place on earth where Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants, and tigers co-exist in the wild.

Hadisiswoyo called for immediate action to save the Ecosystem, which is critically endangered by oil palm expansion and a new spatial plan for Aceh, which will open up swathes of protected forest to road building, mining, and palm oil and timber concessions.

“The award is not the end of our fighting against this expansion, but it is the beginning of the collective actions we are taking together with the local communities, NGOs, and the government. We must keep forest as forest.”

The Leuser Ecosytem is an area of tropical lowland rainforest that covers 2.6 million hectares and straddles the border of Aceh and the neighbouring province of North Sumatra. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has identified it as one of the world’s most irreplaceable areas. It is home to the densest populations of orangutans anywhere in the world, and plays an important role in mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration.

An aerial view of the Leuser Ecosystem, 19th November 2013. Photo: Paul HiltonThe Leuser Ecosystem. (Photo by Paul Hilton.)

The Gunung Leuser National Park also lies within the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra UNESCO World Heritage Site, which, in 2011, was placed on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

There are some 4,000 plant species in the park, along with about 100 species of mammals, and more than 350 bird species.

Hadisiswoyo called on the Indonesian government to safeguard the survival of the country’s remaining forests by banning forest clearing for oil palm plantations. “The moratorium on logging and new plantation permits must be implemented by law enforcement. Plantation expansion must be stopped.”

In just 25 years, 48 percent of forests in Sumatra have been lost because of logging, infrastructure development, and agricultural development, Hadisiswoyo says, and this has had devastating consequences for biodiversity. “Despite being protected under Indonesian law, the Leuser forests are still subject to high levels of illegal encroachment.”

Over the past decade, nearly five million hectares of forest in Indonesia have been replaced by oil palm plantations.

Ten million hectares of oil palms are currently being cultivated in Indonesia and this number is projected to increase to 13 million hectares by 2020. “The palm oil industry has been growing in an unsustainable way,” Hadisiswoyo said. “There is enough unforested land in Indonesia that is suitable for oil palm cultivation, and there is more than enough land available to meet the projected growth in the industry over the coming decades; and so expansion into rainforests is not necessary at all.”

Hadisiswoyo says that, as deforestation continues, the threat to orangutans increases. “This critically endangered species is protected under Indonesian law, but is increasingly being seen as a pest that needs to be exterminated. Trapped in tiny patches of forest surrounded by oil palms, cut off from viable areas of habitat, orangutans resort to raiding crops to find food for their survival.

“For smallholder farmers, this can really threaten their livelihoods, and we have seen that the retaliation can be fatal. Conflict incidents occur and many of the orangutans that we have evacuated have bullets lodged in their bodies, and many die from their injuries.”

The number of stranded orangutans raiding plantations has been increasing year by year,  Hadisiswoyo says, and the resulting human-orangutan conflict is a by-product of deforestation. “Plantation development is destroying tropical rainforests and endangering the existence of orangutans and many other animal species in Indonesia. It is a pattern that we see repeated all over the world.”

With the CARE project, which began in 2011, Hadisiswoyo and his team aim to tackle the root cause of forest degradation at Bukit Mas by engaging with the community to alleviate pressures on the forest and establish more sustainable livelihood opportunities, based on the protection, restoration and non-extractive use of the ecosystem.

“We aim to bring community, NGO, and government stakeholders together to rehabilitate degraded land within the national park, and promote action by communities adjacent to the forest to sustain natural ecological services,” Hadisiswoyo said.

Members of the OIC team will provide training in natural forest restoration techniques and will work with the community and the national park authority to restore 50 hectares of degraded national park land with indigenous tree seedlings. They will establish a new tree nursery to produce native tree seedlings for planting in degraded areas.

“As well as being critical habitat for the Sumatran orangutan and countless species of fauna and flora, the Leuser forests constitute an ecosystem on which four million people in Sumatra depend for valuable ecological services,” Hadisiswoyo said.

“There is an urgent need for conservation action in order to retain viable wild populations of the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan. Vast tracts of their remaining habitat have been degraded.”

The industrial-scale conversion of forests to oil palm plantations and other crops is responsible for the loss of huge areas of forests, Hadisiswoyo says, but, in many areas of Sumatra, local communities are chipping away at crucial orangutan habitat one or two hectares at a time, which can quickly add up to vast areas becoming farmlands.

A group of farmers from the Bukit Mas village have encroached into the national park to expand the land on which they cultivate oranges.

“The local community only relies on monoculture practices, without knowing of the benefits to be derived from improved methods, which allow for greater output from a smaller plot of land,” Hadisiswoyo said. “There is a lack of understanding of the value of the ecological services provided by rainforest ecosystems, and limited sustainable livelihood options for forest-adjacent communities.

“An ecosystem that is well maintained brings numerous benefits, such as effective water catchment and protection from floods and landslides.”

Working with the local community, Hadisiswoyo hopes that, over the next five years, he will be able to develop a better early detection system to prevent and resolve conflict related to natural resources so that deforestation in the Leuser Ecosystem will be prevented and human orangutan conflict will be reduced.

P1080223Hadisiswoyo at the OIC restoration site in the Sei Betung area.

Education is a vital element. It is crucial, Hadisiswoyo says, that people are well informed about the value of forests and biodiversity so they can be motivated to support their protection and stop seeing forests simply as an expendable resource.

Under the CARE programme, education and outreach activities are intended to reach at least 1,200 community members and 600 students from 12 local schools.

Biodiversity surveys will be conducted so that the impact of restoration can be assessed, and the OIC will monitor any human-wildlife conflict and develop prevention and mitigation action plans.

rescue march 15 2014Rescue in March 2014 of a young male orangutan isolated on farmland in Langkat, North Sumatra.

“The integrity of the Leuser Ecosystem is the main priority in my work,” Hadisiswoyo said. “Conservation is never easy to accomplish as there are barriers, including a lack of commitment on the part of the government to protect natural resources.

“However, this is the battle that I must keep fighting; and I will never lose hope in my efforts to defend Sumatran orangutans and their rainforest home.”

Panut getting awardHadisiswoyo receiving his award from the Princess Royal.

The other award winners were:

  • Pramod Patil from India, who won the Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust for his work on community conservation of the great Indian bustard in the Thar Desert in India;
  • Rosamira Guillen from Colombia, who won the Whitley Award donated by Sarah Chenevix-Trench for expanding conservation efforts to protect the cotton-top tamarin in northern Colombia;
  • Arnaud Desbiez from Brazil, who won the Whitley Award donated by the Garden House School Parents’ Association for his work on conserving giant armadillos as a flagship species for the conservation of tropical scrublands in the Brazilian Cerrado;
  • Inaoyom Imong from Nigeria, who won the Whitley Award donated by the Garfield Weston Foundation for saving Cross River gorillas through community-based conservation in the Mbe Mountains;
  • Jayson Ibañez from the Philippines, who won the Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation for his work to prevent further decline of the Philippine eagle on Mindanao Island; and 
  • Ananda Kumar from India, who won the Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK for his work using innovative communication systems to enable human-elephant coexistence in southern India.

In 2013, Hadisiswoyo won the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) Ian Redmond Conservation Award 2013 and was also awarded an Ashoka Fellowship for being an innovative social entrepreneur. In 2012 he was a UN Forest Hero finalist.

Hadisiswoyo’s Whitley award video, narrated by David Attenborough: 

Hadisiswoyo‘s speech at the award ceremony: