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  • Writer's pictureHannah Bywater

Trekking in the Sumatran Jungle

I am so excited to have travelled to the magical island of Sumatra, Indonesia. I ventured into the jungle in hopes to see some orangutans in their natural habitat.

Back in 2007 I learned about the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS). This organization works hard towards their vision of securing the future of Sumatran orangutans and their forests. I had donated a couple hundred dollars to sponsor trees being planted in efforts to restore some of the rainforest. I am thrilled to have visited the Sumatran Orangutan Society & the Orangutan Information Center (OIC) on the island. They were very welcoming and were excited to share their efforts with me.

I set out to trek to find the orangutans in the wild and to see first hand what was being done to help the area and species within. The wildlife in Sumatra is gravely threatened by the palm oil plantation, illegal logging & illegal pet trade. 80% of their habitat has been destroyed over the past 20 years by illegal & legal palm oil plantations and illegal logging. The orangutan population a century ago was a total of 230,000 in Borneo and Sumatra. Today there are fewer than 14,000 Sumatran orangutans and 800 Tapanuli orangutans remaining in the wild. To have the opportunity to trek, find and observe these beautiful animals in the wild was a dream come true for me.

To get to the rainforest we needed to walk through a palm oil plantation. It was dry and bare of all life. Not even birds chirping in the distance. It was unbelievable to see how gravely logging has impacted the natural world. The repercussions of illegal logging are far greater than what we know.

Palm oil trees are planted in uniform rows, you can hundreds of meters ahead. That would never happen in a natural forest. Eventually I saw a green wall, finally we were approaching the rainforest. As we got closer and closer you could hear birds chirping and bugs buzzing. It was incredible. As soon as we got to the edge of the forest it was like a whole new world.

Left: palm oil plantation Right: secondary forest

Visiting the restoration site and seeing first hand the difference between the primary & secondary forests really showed the importance of preserving & protecting the rainforests. Along the way I had explained to the guide that I had sponsored trees years prior. He took me to the area where they had planted trees that year. So I was able to witness the impact my efforts had on the area. I stood in the middle of the trees and watched and listened to the life happening around me.

I ended up donating $7,000 to continue the restoration of the rainforest. The secondary forest has been regained since 2008 from the illegal palm oil plantations and there is a significant amount of work to return it to a habitable condition for wildlife. Tree species that are specific to the orangutans are being planted. Durian fruit trees, an orangutan favourite, along with others will hopefully attract them back to the area.


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