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X The Impact
The vast majority of Sumatra’s spectacular rainforests have been rampantly destroyed in recent decades to make way for growing swaths of oil palm and rubber plantations. With the growing demand for palm oil, what little forest remains is highly susceptible to deforestation for expanding plantations.
The largest surviving block of rainforest in Sumatra is called the “Leuser Ecosystem” in Aceh province. This 6.4-million-acre tropical wilderness is the last place on Earth where the Critically Endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros, Sumatran Orangutan, Sumatran Elephant and Sumatran Tiger are all found within one ecosystem, and it is the only place in the world capable of supporting the survival of all four species.
An article published in the international journal Science identified this area as one of the most “irreplaceable areas” in the world out of over 175,000 protected areas and proposed sites.
But we have just one chance to protect this last rainforest wilderness in Sumatra.
The threats to this last stand of pristine rainforest and its endangered wildlife in the Leuser Ecosystem are swiftly escalating as plantation owners are actively clearing all unprotected areas of forest.
Within the Leuser Ecosystem sits a proposed 2-million-acre Gunung Leuser National Park. However, lying outside the park’s boundaries are some of the richest biodiversity areas with the most important populations of Sumatran Rhinos, Sumatran Elephants, Sumatran Tigers and Sumatran Orangutans. Rainforest Trust has identified the Kluet watershed as one of the most vital areas for the survival of these spectacular animals.
Working with an experienced and dedicated local partner, Rainforest Trust plans to strategically purchase private properties at the entrance of the Kluet watershed and then establish the 184,795-acre Kluet Wildlife Reserve (approximately the size of New York City), which will be adjacent to the proposed Gunung Leuser National Park.
By controlling access to one of Leuser’s most important watersheds and actively patrolling the boundaries of the reserve, Rainforest Trust can effectively secure the survival of the Sumatran Rhino and many other endangered species. In the process, major threats to this spectacular area will be disabled, halting access for wildlife poaching and the extraction of forest products while ensuring the protection of Leuser’s outstanding biodiversity.
Sumatran Rhino (CR), Sumatran Tiger (CR), Sumatran Orangutan (CR), Sumatran Elephant (CR), Helmeted Hornbill (CR)
Lowland tropical rainforest to montane forests
Aggressive oil-palm expansion, deforestation, poaching
Purchase and establish the Kluet Wildlife Reserve
Price per Acre
The Leuser Ecosystem covers more than 6.4 million acres and is one of the richest expanses of tropical rainforest remaining in Southeast Asia. Importantly, Leuser is the last place on Earth where Sumatran Elephants, Sumatran Rhinos, Sumatran Tigers and Sumatran Orangutans still roam side by side.
The smallest of the world’s rhino species, the Sumatran Rhino, is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered and is rapidly running out of space and time. Today, fewer than 100 Sumatran Rhinos exist in the wild – scattered in small, isolated populations almost exclusively on the island of Sumatra. Threatened by poaching and habitat loss, the Leuser Ecosystem is the last refuge and global stronghold for the species. Leuser is also a refuge for the Critically Endangered Sumatran Tiger. Today, it is estimated that only 400 Sumatran Tigers survive in the wild, and a large population of them lives in this area, which makes protecting this stronghold critical to saving the species. Biodiversity surveys in the Kluet watershed have recorded the presence of at least five tigers and over 150 Sambar Deer – their major prey. Much of Sumatra’s remaining forests consist of areas smaller than 100 square miles—too small for viable elephant populations—however, the forests in the Leuser region are still large enough to support multiple elephant herds. The Kluet watershed is an important elephant corridor within Leuser, and surveys have recorded between 15-20 elephants living in the project area. Like elephants, Sumatran Orangutans prefer fruit-rich lowland forests. Of approximately 6,300 Sumatran Orangutans left in the wild, over 95% of the population inhabits the forests of Leuser Ecosystem. Some of these orangutans were successfully reintroduced after being rescued from the illegal pet trade, helping to bring back the population from the edge of extinction. Over 120 orangutans have been recorded in the Kluet watershed alone. In addition to Leuser’s importance for large mammals, the area’s myriad ecosystems provide habitat for an astounding number of other endangered species including Clouded Leopards, White-handed Gibbons, Sun Bears, Marbled Cats and Dholes (Asiatic wild dogs). Over 192 bird species have also been documented, including the Critically Endangered Helmeted Hornbill.
The immediate threats to the Leuser ecosystem and Kluet watershed are deforestation for oil palm and rubber plantations. Inaction now will lead to further fragmentation of vital wildlife habitat, the eventual destruction of the most important rainforest wilderness left in South-East Asia, and ultimately the extinction of the Sumatran Rhino and other species.
Crucially, the existence of private lands and settlements in the Kluet valley facilitates access to the interior of the Leuser Ecosystem, which means increased poaching of wildlife and other forest products. In turn, these settlements justify infrastructure development and road construction, both of which are mounting threats that would further increase access and its negative impacts. However, purchase and protection of the key access point can turn these threats around and prevent new destruction. Sumatran Rhinos and Sumatran Elephants are especially at risk in the Kluet watershed as the area lies on a major wildlife corridor between Kluet Valley and Bengkung Basin in the southwest of the Leuser Ecosystem. The continued existence of settlements in Kluet watershed prevents large mammal migrations and threatens the survival of species trying to reach seasonal and localized food resources.
Most people living in the Kluet area are recent colonists who practice subsistence level farming. Despite the fact that the entire Leuser Ecosystem is a protected area, some small settlements occur within it where colonists have occupied land.
Within the Kluet project area, 20% is already covered by village settlements while the remainder has been converted into rice fields or tree crops. However, the purchase and restoration of this land is of vital importance as a wildlife corridor along the watershed. Land purchase of Kluet is voluntary by villagers who have elected to sell their land and move outside of the Leuser Ecosystem. Rainforest Trust’s partner builds on previous successes working with villagers in the Leuser Ecosystem on similar land purchase agreements.
Thanks to the generous support of our Board members and other supporters who cover all of our operating expenses, Rainforest Trust is able to allocate 100% of donations to conservation action. No board member receives financial benefit and our staff salaries are modest.
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