The Leuser Ecosystem is the largest contiguous forest area remaining on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. At 2.6 million hectares, the ecosystem spans two provinces: Aceh and North Sumatra. Ancient lowland rainforests, carbon-rich peat swamps, rolling alpine meadows, and mist-covered mountains harbour a staggering array of flora and fauna. A vital life-support system for over 4 million local people, the ecosystem services it provides are valued at over $500 million per year. Ranked as one of the world’s foremost “irreplaceable protected areas”, the Leuser Ecosystem is the last place on earth where orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers still roam together in the wild.
Despite national legal protection of the Leuser Ecosystem and of these species, all four along with many other unique wildlife species, are now classified as Critically Endangered due to the rapid conversion of their forests into palm oil plantations, roads, energy projects, mines and settlements. Indonesia has one of the highest rates of forest destruction in the world and Sumatra is at the top of that list. Poachers capture infant orangutans to sell as pets worldwide while most other wildlife are hunted for their body-parts to supply the black market for traditional medicine and ornamentation.
The increased demand for palm oil has proven detrimental to the Leuser Ecosystem. Although the oil palm plant is native to Africa, Indonesia has become the world's largest producer of palm oil — a low-cost, edible oil that is estimated to be in more than 50 percent of supermarket products. In order to increase palm oil production, more than 4,000 hectares (approximately 6,400 football pitches) of protected forest have been illegally destroyed in the Aceh Tamiang district alone. This area in the East of Leuser contains critical lowland rainforests and includes a vital Sumatran elephant migration route. While a few urban elite profit from such mass conversion, the communities surrounding the forest suffer the consequences such as flooding, landslides, drought, crop failure and river pollution. Communities finding themselves surrounded by oil palm face the compromising of their land rights, rising social and human-wildlife conflict and a narrowing of livelihood options.
Due to this destruction, Sumatra’s unique megafauna species are dying out. Of the world’s 80 remaining wild Sumatran rhinos, Leuser contains 50—the last viable population of this species on Earth. Of just 400 remaining Sumatran tigers, more than 100 live in Leuser, which is one of only two regions with enough breeding females to sustain this subspecies. Finally, 85% of the world’s critically endangered Sumatran orangutans call this forest home. As Sumatra’s forests disappear, it becomes increasingly likely that Sumatran orangutans will become the first great ape to go extinct. All of this has led conservationists to call Leuser one of the “world’s most irreplaceable protected areas” – if this forest disappears, these species will go with it.
Click on the image below to learn more about the Leuser Ecosystem using Google Earth.
Make sure you check each of the 8 stops on the interactive map that provide further information on Leuser's fauna and flora, the Importance of Leuser, the threats tooth's ecosystem, the work done to save Sumatran elephants by HAKA, FKL's action to protect wildlife, local communities' and other defenders' fight to protect Leuser.