Monday, December 5, 2011


The next destination of our journey was Ketambe.  We wanted to see this area in part because the AZA’s (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Ape TAG Conservation Initiative is supporting a project called KREDI (Ketambe Restoration and Ecotourism Development Initiative) in this area.  This project was initiated by OIC (Orangutan Information Centre).  As the “hornbill flies” the distance between Bukit Lawang and Ketambe is not far at all.  However, since we had to drive the long way around Gunung Leuser National Park, this drive took about 10 hours, and much of it was very bumpy on mountain switchbacks.
Forest trekking with our guide Jhon Kanedi (this was his real name!) was a great experience but after about three hours the steep, muddy conditions were taking their toll on some of us.  We found nests and traces of orangutans, heard gibbon calls, and saw Thomas’s leaf monkeys, then it started to rain (go figure…it IS the rainy season!).

Our next order of business was to visit a fledgling reforestation site.  There are huge challenges in this area due to farmers from the next village encroaching on the National Park land.  OIC has been working with the community for two years, trying to get farmers’ support and commitment to stop encroaching on park land.

In meeting with village leaders later that evening, we learned that they would like to expand ecotourism in the area so that there is more sustainable income and less pressure to encroach on the forest.  Although they have a long way to go, it is good that they are working in that direction. 

We stayed at the Friendship Guest House.  There was a very friendly cat who kept us company at meal times – which made us home sick for our own pets at home.  The food was excellent, but the accommodations were somewhat challenging and basic.

On the way back to Medan we experienced our first (and only) flat tire in over 40 hours of driving on this trip.  We drew a huge crowd of local children who seemed amused and interested in the predicament of these western tourists. 

Although the drives to and from Ketambe, which is in the province of Aceh, were not very comfortable, the scenery was beautiful.  It was the only place we did not see miles and miles palm oil plantations, instead we saw quite a bit of intact forest.  We also saw an incredible amount of corn grown on mountainsides (that can’t be fun to cultivate). 

One interesting thing we saw was two goats tied up to two cows, and the goats were leading the way down a mountain road.  Unfortunately we saw several cases of macaques being kept as pets.  The strangest situation was a baby macaque clinging to a dog, which was balancing on a dog crate on the back of a motorcycle. 

After spending the night in Medan, we met with Panut Hadisiswoyo, founding director of OIC.  He did a presentation for us showing some of OIC’s great projects, including HOCRU (Human Orangutan Conflict Resolution Unit) and the education programs which have reached 10,000 children in Indonesia.

We are currently in Kuala Lampur, we will fly to Hong Kong next, then Los Angeles, then Denver…we are all looking forward to our own beds, our favorite American foods and drinks. 

Our showers were cold but the water was clean...

Our next stop was Besitang, we visited Putri Hijau, a small holder palm oil plantation (2000 hectares).  It was a good opportunity to compare with the certified sustainable palm oil plantations we had seen last year.  Their production yield is quite a bit lower than larger plantations, and working conditions were different.  We spoke with a woman who spreads fertilizer and the plantation manager.  They were happy to show us around the plantation, and we saw the workers’ accommodations as well – these were very basic, like most of the homes we saw in other parts of Indonesia.

Adjacent to the small holder is a reforestation site started by OIC (Orangutan Information Centre) two years ago.  Unfortunately due to unclear boundaries, the small holder had encroached on the Gunung Leuser National Forest in 1995.  After this was discovered OIC took on daunting task of removing oil palms and reforesting 200 hectares.  In December 2011 OIC will be removing 4000 additional oil palms to make more room for reforestation.

Next we drove to Medan and met with Musim Mas.  Dr. Gan Lian Tiong, their head of sustainability; they had a presentation prepared to tell us about their operations and sustainability initiatives.  They are very well informed on the issues; Musim Mas was the first Indonesian palm oil company that was certified by RSPO.  By the end of 2012 they plan to have all of their plantations and mills certified by RSPO, and also have methane capture established on all of the mills.

Then we drove to Bukit Lawang, a well-established ecotourism site that we had visited last year.  Our Ecolodge was well adapted for western guests, our showers were cold but the water was clean.  We hiked to a feeding platform in the rainforest and waited a while…we knew there was the possibility we would not see orangutans.  Then one by one three different females and their babies, so a total of six orangutans, came to the site.  Two young females, under four years old, did not come to the platform but chose to stay in the trees and play with each other.  It was so fun to watch them interacting and wrestling – mostly while they hung by their feet. 

We are off on our full day of driving to Ketambe, stay tuned…

Find out more about palm oil and orangutans on our palm oil crisis page and check back soon - we’ll send updates when we can!