Indonesia: Rare species under threat as Leuser park’s forest shrinks

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 13 Jul 16;

A number of endangered species are under threat as the government plans to convert forests in a national park in Sumatra into a geothermal power plant.

The government has announced a plan to turn 18,000 hectares of protected forests in the Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL) into productive areas to make room for an investor from Turkey that has expressed interest in tapping into the geothermal potential of the area, which has long been part of the Leuser range, a line of ancient, non-volcanic formations.

The park, with its 800,000 ha of land spanning three provinces in northern Sumatra, is home to seven protected animals including the Sumatran Elephant, Sumatran gibbon (siamang), orangutans and tigers.

Orangutan Information Center director Panut Hadisiswoyo said the government should drop the land conversion plan in Kappi, Gayo Lues, Aceh, because the area was still well-preserved and home to the endangered species.

“Kappi is a crucial part of the Leuser ecosystem. If it is taken away, rhinoceros, tigers and elephants in the area will become extinct,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

He also questioned whether the government had conducted thorough study on the geothermal potential of the area.

Once dubbed the largest conservation area in Southeast Asia, Leuser park has been encroached upon by illegal plantations and other agricultural activities.

It has also been named a world-heritage tropical rainforest by UNESCO.

In 2014, the government recorded that the park’s preserved area had fallen from 1 million hectares to 838,872 hectares due to legal and illegal land use.

The core preservation area, including Kappi, had been reduced to only 631,542 hectares by this year, down from almost 700,000 hectares in 2009.

Head of the TNGL center Andi Basrul confirmed reports about the land conversion plan in Kappi.

He said that the proposal was currently waiting for approval from the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

“The land conversion is to support President Jokowi’s plan to tap into geothermal potential, although it will harm the conservation area,” Andi told the Post.

However, he said that there had not been any formal agreement with the Turkish investor as the government was still assessing the plan.

Andi argued that the park’s land allocation for productive purposes was largely flawed, pushing the authorities to destroy an increasing amount of forest areas.

“All [productive areas] have been damaged,” he said, citing Ketambe, Lawe Alas in Southeast Aceh as some of the damaged areas.

The authorities’ lack of commitment to protecting the areas is often cited as the cause of the degrading condition of the national park.

A group that has united as Gerakan Rakyat Menggugat (GeRAM) is raising awareness of the need to protect the Leuser park in Aceh through an online petition.

Posted on in February, the petition calls on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to protect one of the richest expanses of tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia.

Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio has also promoted the petition through social media following his visit to TNGL in late March.

The petition is just one of GeRAM’s efforts to urge the government to revise an Islamic bylaw on spatial planning that does not include KEL among the protected forests and national strategic areas in its land-use plan.

The group filed a class action lawsuit in January against Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah and Aceh Legislative Council Speaker Muharuddin at the Central Jakarta District Court.