We watched in silence as two orangutans, a mother and her child, were preparing themselves for an enveloping storm.
While the air thickened, the mother – who was nicknamed Mina by local guides – carried her baby to the canopy and into the nest built earlier that day. Then, collecting the vines and leaves, he woven an umbrella out of the leaf and dedicated it to his daughter.
Thunder shook the ground, shaking off a pair of giant hornbills, which honked in rage. Gibbon’s ghostly cry echoed throughout the canopy.
Its 6 million acres of dense rainforest are home to 389 species of birds and 130 species of mammals, including the world’s largest wild population. Sumatran Oranges.
Although they once thrived in healthy forests from Indonesia to China, wild orangutans, which are among the rarest and the most intelligent Great apes, now confined to the rain forests of two Southeast Asian islands: Borneo and Sumatra. Their populations have dwindled, mainly due to habitat destruction – in the form of the highly destructive practices of mining, logging and the palm oil industry.
The Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmius, was declared critically endangered in 2016; Since the middle of the 20th century, its population has declined by more than 80 percent.
Populations of the Sumatran orangutan, Pongo abeli, and the Tapanuli orangutan, Pongo tapanuliensis, both of which are also critically endangered, have also experienced rapid declines.
In response, a dedicated group of caretakers is trying to uncover the complexities of conservation on Sumatra, fighting to protect the ecosystem and grasping for a solution that will help both the wildlife and the people who call the island their home. can be mutually beneficial.
Sumatra is not far from my family’s farm in Wyoming where I grew up on the outskirts of Grand Teton National Park. Protection, however, is in my blood. Fifty-five years ago my great-grandfathers recognized the importance of wooded areas, and established our farm as one of Jackson Hole’s first private conservation parcels.
It was growing up here that I fell in love with nature and learned firsthand the difficulties of protecting it as evolution encroaches around us. As my career as an environmental archaeologist and photojournalist matured, my interest grew in wildlife conservation and the relationship between traditional cultures. In 2017, I had the opportunity to visit Sumatra photographers without borders, a non-profit organization covering the island’s wildlife and indigenous-rights issues.
Over the next several weeks, we traveled to North Sumatra under the guidance of orangutan information center (OIC), an organization that aims to rescue injured and trafficked orangutans, rehabilitate destroyed rain forests and help prevent human-animal conflict through educational programming.
Panut Hadisiswoyo, who founded the OIC in 2001, told me that his goal is to give oranges a place to flourish on Sumatra. He also hopes that through community development, he can create pride and awareness about animals in rural communities – to help build a group of orangutan guardians at the grassroots level.
OIC’s efforts are central to the looser ecosystem, whose rain forests provide livelihoods and drinking water for more than four million people – and whose borders are threatened by ever-growing palm oil plantations.
With the help of Nayla Azmi, a 32-year-old indigenous conservationist, we spent several days hiking through mountainous rainforest to see and photograph families of orangutans on the outskirts of Bukit Lawang, a small village which has an eco-tourism-driven economy. A case study on how sustainable jobs and forest conservation can coexist.
After our time with the orangutans, Ms. Azmi took us to other corners of Sumatra to learn about less prestigious but equally important conservation battles.
An animal rescue center along the river, near the remote village of Tangkahan, on the edge of Gunung Lusar National Park, is home to a family of Sumatran elephants who were rescued from forced labor. While their new riverside home was bare-bones and relies on the controversial practice of offering elephant rides for income, the rescue center works to provide the animals with a better environment, despite mediocre resources. . Visiting the center was a testament to the reality of conservation in Indonesia, where good intentions are often constrained by economic and infrastructural limitations.
The fate of Sumatran conservation will be largely determined by what happens over the next few years. While the rate of forest destruction continues to increase, the tireless work of activists like Mr. Hadisiswayo and Ms. Azmi provides a glimmer of hope.
“My dream is for indigenous peoples to regain their pride and start leading conservation programs,” said Ms. Azmi, who recently founded it. Nooraga Bhoomi Institute To help preserve Batak culture, promote women’s rights, and campaign for indigenous-led conservation efforts.
“If we can give people confidence, if we can work together and be proud of our ancestral connection to the forest, I believe we will see a big change in the conservation of Sumatra.”