In December last year we went on a trip to Indonesia. One of the places we visited was Bukit Lawang. A small and popular village located on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is home to numerous birds, plants and mammal species like the Sumatran orang utan (Pongo abelii).
The 2.5 million hectare Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra site comprises three national parks: Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. The site holds the greatest potential for long-term conservation of the distinctive and diverse biota of Sumatra, including many endangered species (source: unesco.org) so we booked a three-day jungle trek in the hope to find orang utans.
We encountered five orang utans and several other animals – an experience to be well remembered. Walking through this kind of forest makes you feel small. Plants and trees are growing everywhere – absolutely amazing.
But besides all the beauty and excitement I also sensed that the village and the Gunung Leuser National Park is facing some challenges too. For example the amount of litter in the village is something which can not be overlooked. Plastic packaging, bottles and other stuff is scattered around the place. During the trekking we spend the nights at two different base-camps. Also here were traces of litter evident.
I assume the amount of visitors will increase in the years ahead and I would like to see that as something positive as it brings prosperity to the residents and many trekking-businesses. But the increase of visitors also puts pressure on the amount of waste produces – not to mention the collection and processing of the waste. And as most people come for jungle trekking the increase of visitors will also put a burden on the forest animals. Other challenges are palm oil production and illegal logging (the harvest, transportation, purchase / sale of timber)
I have email exchange with Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking – one of the many trekking businesses in the village. They organised our jungle trip in a very professional way and with one of the directors I reflected my thoughts. It’s a relief that they have the same opinion and in fact they initiated the CARE NOW project to fight some of the issues. This initiative focusses on education, training and support of local communities about waste (management, reduction, separation, processing) and the impact on the environment. Another project they support is the BUKIT LAWANG TRUST. The purpose of the trust is to engage in environmental and wildlife projects in connection with the endangered Sumatran orang utans.
I truly hope that other local businesses take an example of Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking and that local authorities will anticipate timely in order to secure the future of the people, the park and its wildlife.