Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gunung Palung National Park and Flora and Fauna International

The situation in Indonesian Borneo appears to be very bad for many orangutans. Compared to Sumatra (also in Indonesia) and Sabah, Malaysia, Indonesian Borneo is going through a major conversion from forest to oil palm plantations on a massive scale. Sumatra and Sabah, Malaysia already went through this transition many years ago and have very few orangutans left as a result. There are 87 different palm oil companies in the Ketapang region.

Palm Oil as far as the eye can see.

Truck on scale to weigh FFBs (fresh fruit bunches of palm oil).

Our next meeting was with the National Park office which is a run by the Forestry Department. The forestry official we met with told us a lot about Gunung Palung National Park. The park was established in 1927 and was enlarged in 1990. There are 2,500-3,000 orangutans in the park, it is 90,000 hectares, and 6 rangers patrol and monitor the park via trekking, water boats and ultra-light airplanes. There are currently two ultra-light pilots, but recently an NGO gave them money and tools to train more pilots. The park official we spoke with thinks Borneo needs a good zoo so local people can see the animals and learn about them. He also said that there is too much forest being converted to palm oil. We were very surprised to learn that in 2008 there were 222 guests to the park, and in 2009 there were 488 guests. We expected this park to be a more popular destination.

Next we visited with FFI, Flora and Fauna International. A major project they are working on is HCV assessments for palm oil plantations. HCV areas are high in conservation value, and there are many factors that can lead to this classification. A few examples are:
• endangered species living in the area,
• land that has cultural significance for indigenous people,
• riparian areas

The reason for assessing HCV areas is that it is a requirement of the RSPO in order for a plantation to be a member of RSPO and to be certified as sustainable. FFI has many specialists that make up their HCV assessment team (bat specialist, bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian, etc.). An impressive part of this program is that the palm oil plantations do not pay for the assessments; they are funded by FFI and other NGOs so there is no question about validity or bias/influence.

The FFI Team

We met with a man named Fajri from Gemawan, an NGO that helps communities manage the local forests sustainably. They are working with twelve different villages. Of the many projects they are working on, one of the most unique is the collection of kopi luwak. If you have seen the movie “The Bucket List” this might ring a bell. This involves collecting coffee beans that are eaten then defecated by wild palm civets. This specialty coffee fetches very high prices and gives local people an incentive to protect the civets. (Yes, people pay a lot to drink this!) Of the twelve villages they are working with, conversion of forests to palm oil plantations has not been a concern near any of those villages thus far.

We visited a medical clinic that gives a large discount to patients who are not loggers. Also, if they are unable to pay with money then patients or their families can trade handicrafts for medical services. The photo below is of some crafts that were traded at the clinic.

A highlight of our time in this area was a hike and overnight stay in Gunung Palung National Park. The hike was steep but beautiful, and we slept on the upper levels of a giant complex tree house. While we slept a wild bearded pig came into the camp and ate all of the coffee, then splashed around in the nearby creek. The camping precautions we take to avoid conflict with wildlife in the U.S. could definitely apply to other parts of the world. (Not sure how to keep primates out of your supplies though, we’ll have to follow up on that question.)

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