Managing human-wildlife conflict in Sumatra

Panut Hadisiswoyo, the Principle Conservationist and Founding Director of the Orangutan Information Centre is here in Singapore and he came down to NUS to give a talk on the Human-Orangutan conflict mitigation program that he initiated in Gunung Leuser National Park (GLNP), Sumatra, Indonesia.

As with many other countries, habitat loss is a major problem, especially due to illegal settlement and plantation. The impact is felt more dearly here, as GLNP is one of few legally protected national parks where 4 large mammals can be found: Sumatran tiger, Sumatran orangutan, Sumatran rhino and Asian elephant, all of which are classified as Critically Endangered or Endangered under CITES. With increasing encroachment of human settlement and palm oil plantations into the forest, inevitably conflict between wildlife and humans will occur.

Hence, Panut set up the Human-Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) to deal with this issue of human-wildlife conflict, especially with regards to the Orangutans. Apart from dealing with reports from farmers on crop-raiding Orangutans, the unit also conducts research, surveying the locals’ perception of wildlife and how they deal with problems arising from such conflicts. They also work with local communities to raise awareness, restore previously cleared forests and run educational programs.

His talk was really inspiring, and I could see his passion and determination in trying to conserve this charismatic animal! Conservation of any animal is never easy, and requires a multi-pronged approach dealing with the local community, big corporations, law enforcement agencies and government policies. Although he has seen some measure of success in outreach and education, there is still a long path to go, especially with regards to law enforcement and dealing with the root of the problem. He has lots of determination though, and I was very inspired by his talk. That one person can have so much energy and passion and have achieved so much, that really gives hope that our wildlife are not doomed to extinction! (:

Panut will be conducting the talk again tomorrow (17 November 2011) at the National Geographic Store in Vivocity at 7.00pm. Do support him by registering here.

More information on the topic can be found here.


My notes from the talk

– conflict is inevitable, but it’s a particular problem especially in Sumatra
– conflict = interaction between wildlife and humans that result in negative impact
– there’s a difference in treatment between birds raiding fields vs big mammals (eg Orangutans)
– it’s not easy to manage, need to address root cause
– can deal with symptoms (conflict in rice fields), but not tackle the root cause
– GLNP is home to 4 megafauna: Sumatran tiger (<200 in wild), Sumatran orangutan (<600), Asian elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros

The problem
– generally due to loss of habitat (logging, deforestation, encroachment of natural habitat, illegal settlement), hence animals venture out to find food.
– there’s been a loss of 22000ha of GLNP to illegal settlements and plantations. It’s not easy to reclaim forest as people are harvesting the palm oil, an investment that has returns.
– the mindset that palm oil is the way to go for the Indonesian economy needs to be changed, cos it causes great damage and affects sustainable economy and biodiversity
– only 6600 individual orangutans remain (as of 2008), as compared to 12000 individuals in 1990
– those orangutans are confined to 13 separate populations, and only 7 have >250 individuals in the population (as of 2010)
– a proportion of orangutans are found in habitats not within GLNP, and is at risk of exploitation by the local government. There is the possibility of loss of habitat for these orangutans.
– the isolation of orangutans outside of GLNP is also a problem; possible project to connect the populations with forest?
– law enforcement is weak

– why bother with orangutans when there are poor hungry people who need help?
– they’re an umbrella species – saving the habitat to save this species can help save many others
– they have great ecological impact, in seed dispersal and forest regeneration
– they’re the 4th largest primate

The conflict
– with rainforest converted for cultivation, crop raiding increases
– there is no gap between rainforest and plantation, making it easier for orangutans to get access

Managing conflict
– important to understand locals’ perception of orangutans (females fear orangutans more than males), the response of orangutans to living in human-dominated landscapes and the impact on rural subsistence economies
– there’s a need to stop the access of animals, but it’s not easy
– they’ve set up a Human-Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) to work on reports by farmers/plantation owners and study HOC. They investigate, assess and enumerate loss of crop/damage. Borneo also has similar problems, but not much seems to have been done
– there has not been much research done on wildlife conflict mitigation in Indonesia, mainly on elephant only.
– need to link research to ground work, application to solving problems.
– they’ve raised awareness by establishing community-based projects and running educational training programmes, as they believe that local people should be on the frontline
– conflict management is often overlooked in conservation plans

Results of conflict survey
– survey content: to identify crop-raiding species, rank the most destructive, the most frequent and the most feared, as well as the mitigation practices they’re employing
– 58% report primates as most problematic (long-tailed macaque, thomas leaf monkeys, pig tailed macaque, orangutans)
– wild boar most feared and destructive with highest individual species raiding
– 1/4 have problems with orangutans
– 99% claim that they have never caught wild orangutans before, and 98% know that orangutans are protected by law
– 34% believe that crop-raiding wildlife limits agricultural success
– durian and rubber are the most raided crops
– majority do nothing when animals raid the crops and a sizeable number shout at the animals

HOCRU work
– the SMS centre for reporting wildlife conflict receives 45 sms/year
– they use firecracker noises/bamboo cannon to drive the orangutan back into forest and show farmers how to use. there’s a need to research on the trauma caused by noise.
– they’ve rescued 220 orangutans, >60% from government officials
– the conservation village development supports local farmers in managing farms, not expanding farmland into forests. Ensure it’s not just a monoculture but also growing cash crops for ST, no need to expand farmland
– multi stake holder w/s and working group to discuss findings, best practicies and establish task force —> first governer decree that address HWC mitigation issues. still need to enforce.
– community education and outreach – discussion with moms, schools, and through story-telling sessions.
– community-based habitat restoration – reforest to mitigate loss of habitat, which doesn’t involved just removing illegal oil palms but also improving soil conditions as the soil is poor for replanting

– urgent need to stop encroachment. also need for greater law enforcement, education and outreach, as well as to evaluate the value of areas around GLNP

About Jocelyne Sze

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
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One Response to Managing human-wildlife conflict in Sumatra

  1. Pingback: Reflections on Conservation after a year and a bit | Nature rambles.

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