IAR has always taken a pragmatic approach to conservation in Indonesia, understanding that we must work within the country’s existing landscape, and cultural, economic and political context. All existing orangutan habitat is to some extent being shaped by human activities, and in West Kalimantan the predominant land use is for agriculture, both for local smallholdings and larger industrial plantations, principally for the cultivation of oil palm.
If wild orangutans are to survive, it is imperative that there is enough forest in these different landscapes, and orangutans are able to move from one forest patch to another, to ensure breeding opportunities and genetic diversity. To facilitate this, IAR works with the local and national governments of Indonesia, the private sector, other NGOs and consultancy firms, and international certification schemes.
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
We have actively engaged with the RSPO, a voluntary body that works to bring sustainability standards to the palm oil industry, making official complaints against RSPO-member palm oil companies found to be contravening guidelines. Although the RSPO’s ability to adequately hold companies to account has been called in to question, and complaints can take many years to resolve, they can have significant financial and reputational repercussions for companies.
We have also begun working directly with the companies themselves. As protecting areas of forest assessed to have a High Conservation Value (HCV), a criterion determined by the HCV Resource Network, is a requirement of the RSPO and the sustainability policies of many companies, we are providing assistance to a number of companies on the management of these HCV areas, training staff in orangutan monitoring methods and how to use Spatial Monitoring & Reporting Tool (SMART) software, one of the most effective ways of recording and analysing instances of illegal activity.
In one plantation near to our centre, we are also exploring ways in which we can connect HCV areas, beginning to trial different natural and artificial corridors, and assessing how they affect orangutan movement patterns. Corridors like this are increasingly important, and IAR is currently collaborating on an ambitious, multi-stakeholder project to link two of the largest orangutan populations in West Kalimantan, the more southerly Sungai Putri forest block, a highly threatened 55,000 hectare coastal peat swamp forest that contains a possible 1200 orangutans, with the more northerly Gunung Palung National Park, and its estimated 1000 orangutans. This corridor project will go through three separate palm oil concessions and multiple villages, requiring both habitat protection and reforestation, monitoring of human-orangutan conflict, and engagement with the private sector and government departments. If successful, it would make a substantial contribution to the conservation of orangutans in this province.
Another key area which IAR is working to protect is the Community Forest of Pematang Gadung and Sungai Besar. This forest, about two hours from our centre in Sungai Awan, contains a large population of orangutans, as well as gibbons, tarsiers, slow lorises, macaques, proboscis monkeys, crocodiles and numerous bird species. Its 14,000 hectares of coastal peat swamp habitat is some of the most biodiverse on earth, but despite being officially protected under the Indonesian government’s Community Forest scheme, the forest has been subjected to logging, clearing for agriculture, mining and forest fires. The incursions in to the forest have largely come from local people, who have few alternatives other than to engage in extractive practices. To help protect this critical habitat, IAR is working on community development initiatives, providing training in more efficient farming practices to increase yields and reduce the demand for new land; we have also instigated an ecotourism venture to bring revenue and jobs to the area; and we have begun community patrols to ensure the integrity of the forest.