Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Traveling to Indonesia: Part Two

We are now well rested and caught up from being gone for over two weeks, but we wanted to share a few highlights from the rest of our November Indonesia trip.

Dina planting a tree at OIC.

Our first stop during this portion of the trip was near Besitang.  We visited an area that once was clear cut for palm oil trees and has since been reclaimed for reforestation. The reforestation site has changed greatly since we last saw it two years ago; it has been mostly left alone to grow, and the trees are getting tall!  Due to the success of this site, reforestation efforts have now grown and moved to nearby areas. The project is run by an organization called OIC (Orangutan Information Centre).  OIC staff has reported seeing elephants and orangutans using the reforested area, which is a true sign of success for this project.

Tracey planting a tree at OIC.

We were lucky that the timing of our visit to the reforestation site allowed us to see drone technology being used to help monitor deforestation. Researchers are programming drones (Styrofoam airplanes that are about four feet long) with GPS, grid routes, and cameras built in to map and monitor forest areas. They are also using the drones to count orangutan nests (to gather population data) and check for forest encroachment, deforestation and fires. We were able to watch drones take off and talk with the researchers involved with the drone project, which was very educational.  Learn more about conservation drones at:

Drone plane about to take off.

Our next destination was Bukit Lawang. There we saw five wild Sumatran orangutans – two mothers, two older offspring and one baby. The most exciting sighting was spotting a mother, – who we’ve been able to observe on two previous trips to Sumatra. Her daughter, Catherine, was also with her. This area –Bukit Lawang –is very important because it is the most successful ecotourism area involving the Gunung Leuser National Park.  Unfortunately there has been encroachment in many other areas of the park, but there has been almost no encroachment of the original park boundaries near Bukit Lawang.  This is most likely because the local people have economic incentive to keep the forest and ecosystem intact.


The highlight of our trip to Indonesia, and our next stop, was a visit to an orangutan reintroduction site in Jantho, north Aceh which was established by SOCP (Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme).  Many of the orangutans that are released at Jantho had lost their homes due to deforestation and non-sustainable palm oil production.  After spending time in a quarantine and rehabilitation center the healthy orangutans are released at sites like Jantho.  The project’s base camp was in a very remote area, so it was about a 1.5 hour 4-wheel drive adventure just getting there.  On a forest hike at the release site, we saw two juvenile orangutans very high up in a tree and were glad to see that they had no interest in coming down to see us.  This was living proof that they are thriving and are not reliant on humans.  We also saw a variety of other wildlife around camp such as wild pigs, long-tailed macaques, a family of four white-handed gibbons, fruit bats and hornbills flying overhead, and Sumatran tiger tracks! 

Sumatran tiger footprint in Jantho.

Upon returning to Medan, Indonesia, we were able to tour the location where a really exciting conservation project will be created in the next several years: Orangutan Haven.  Not only will it provide a more natural home for non-releasable orangutans, but it will also be a wonderful place for Indonesians to make a connection with these critically endangered great apes and hopefully inspire them to take action to save them.  To learn more, visit

On the last day of our trip we met with a sustainability specialist from a palm oil company that is very involved with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We talked about the reforestation and sustainability practices of the large company he works for, and the logistics of being on an RSPO task force.  We hope to get more involved in the RSPO by joining a working group or task force.

Harvesting fruit bunches.

During our journey we accomplished several of our goals – voting at the RSPO General Assembly which included a very important resolution on requiring palm oil growers to map their plantations boundaries. This resolution, which was passed, is very important because it keeps RSPO grower members accountable for activities that happen on their land and ensures they are not expanding beyond their property boundaries. (i.e. National forest).  We were able to discuss important sustainability topics with other Zoos and environmental conservation organizations as well as representatives from the palm oil industry from various points along the supply chain. We visited reforestation sites, saw wild orangutans and furthered our knowledge of certified and non-certified palm oil plantations. Upon returning to Colorado, we are continuing our mission to inform Zoo guests about the importance of supporting RSPO plantations, companies and manufacturers by purchasing their products. To download the sustainable palm oil Smartphone application, or to learn more about the palm oil crisis, visit

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