Land of Beauty, Destruction and Hope

On the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, spread across the provinces of North Sumatra and Aceh, lies the Leuser Ecosystem. Six times the size of Yosemite National Park, Leuser covers 6.5 million acres of some of the richest and most bio-diverse forest found anywhere on Earth. Rugged mountains cloaked in clouds reach into the heavens, while raging rivers snake down from the sky through deep valleys, flowing into rich lowland jungles, muddy peat swamps and out to sea.

Identified as one of the world’s most irreplaceable protected areas by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Leuser is a biodiversity gem. It is the last place on Earth where orangutans, elephants, rhinos and tigers roam freely in the wild, and it is home to thousands of species of plants, mammals, reptiles and birds – including the magnificent helmeted hornbill, its six-foot wingspan heard by a lucky few thumping through the 200-foot canopy. This invaluable ecosystem also provides fresh water and flood protection to the thousands of Indonesians who live in harmony with this ancient jungle.

Sadly, in the last 25 years, 48% of Sumatra’s forests have been lost due to logging, infrastructure, and agricultural development – primarily in support of palm oil production, the industry of choice that now dominates the Sumatran economy and existentially threatens local communities and endemic species.

But Leuser is also a landscape of hope. Optimism is fueled by the successes achieved by brave local community members who are supported by scientists and activists. They are standing up to palm oil companies by educating their fellow citizens, fighting the government in court, removing poachers’ snares by the hundreds, chopping down oil palm and replanting native vegetation, working undercover to glean details about illegal operations in protected areas, and sometimes by resorting to violence, torching machinery in the forest and forcing the companies to flee.

Leuser is a symbol of opportunity – emblematic of our potential to save vital resources before it’s too late.