Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) is endeavouring to conserve viable wild populations of the Critically Endangered Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii). It supports the conservation of the Sumatran Orangutan through habitat protection, reintroduction, education, monitoring and research
The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) is a collaborative programme of PanEco Foundation (Switzerland) and its counterpart NGO Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (Medan, North Sumatra). Currently close to 70 local staff assist with implementing the various SOCP programmes in Aceh and North Sumatra.
SOCP is seen as the foremost authority on the status and distribution of remaining wild Sumatran Orangutans, and are increasingly active in the battle to save the remaining wild habitat of this critically endangered species.
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Confiscation, Rehabilitation and Reintroduction
Despite the fact that it has long been illegal to kill, capture, keep or trade orangutans in Indonesia, these wildlife laws have seldom been effectively enforced. One excuse that was often offered to explain this shortcoming was a lack of suitable facilities to accommodate confiscated animals.
Since its establishment in 1999, the SOCP has provided appropriate specialist facilities that operate in full compliance with international guidelines and regulations for reintroduction. SOCP’s orangutan quarantine centre at Batu Mbelin, North Sumatra, and the two reintroduction centers, near the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi Province and at Jantho, in Aceh Province, are all fully equipped, staffed by experienced personnel, and operate to the highest standards.
Over 200 orangutans have been returned to the wild as a result of this work. Two entirely new wild populations of orangutans are also gradually being established as a backup “safety net” for the remaining wild population, increasing the likelihood that at least some orangutans will survive in Sumatra’s forests in the future.
Habitat Protection - Batang Toru
Despite the fact that the majority of the remaining Sumatran orangutan population resides north of Lake Toba in the Leuser Ecosystem conservation area, there is a very unique and less known population of Sumatran orangutans living south of Lake Toba in a forest area now commonly referred to as the Batang Toru Forest Complex.
In 2006, SOCP established the Batang Toru monitoring station in West Batang Toru Forest Block. This monitoring station houses the only viable Sumatran orangutan population south of Lake Toba and is also the only Sumatran orangutan monitoring station that is located in an upland forest setting. However, only about 25% of the Batang Toru Forest Complex is protected. As such, the orangutans of Batang Toru are still under threat from destructive and extractive human activities, such as logging, mining, and hunting.
SOCP is in the process of petitioning for protected status for the remaining primary forest in Batang Toru. This is not only important for maintaining the unique floral and faunal diversity in the Batang Toru Forest Complex, but also helps to maintain a stable ecosystem, providing water, and other environmental services, which in turn are important for the economy and daily lives of local communities living in and around Batang Toru.
SOCP continues to take a leading role in surveying and monitoring the status of all remaining wild orangutan populations in Sumatra using remote sensing and field surveys to record presence or absence, density estimates, and threats and population trends.
The SOCP, in collaboration with its partner organizations the PanEco Foundation and Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari, regularly conduct orangutan population surveys, in addition to managing numerous monitoring stations, where detailed behavioral and ecological data are currently being collected. As Sumatran orangutans can be found in various tropical forest habitat types, SOCP maintains monitoring stations in each of these habitat types, including, dryland lowland forest, wet peat swamp forest, and upland forest. The data obtained from these monitoring stations allow conservation biologists to better understand the behavioural variability of the Sumatran orangutan, and as such, allow practitioners to make more informed decisions regarding their future conservation and management.
SOCP is actively campaigning to save, restore and maintain vital orangutan habitats.
- Tripa Campaign
SOCP is campaigning to save and restore the Tripa peat swamps, which have been under severe threat from economic activities, mainly palm oil concessions. The Tripa area not only harbours the highest densities of orangutans in the world, but also plays an important role in protecting nearby people from the worst impacts of the tsunami.
- Save Aceh Campaign
SOCP is trying to block a new spatial plan being pushed by the Government of Aceh. The new plan will legalise numerous new roads through Aceh’s forests and open up vast new areas to timber, mining and plantation concessions. This completely ignores the existence of the Leuser Ecosystem, a National Strategic Area for its Environmental Function and one of a number of key habitats recognised as the World’s Most Irreplaceable Areas.
In addition to seriously impacting biodiversity and regional carbon emissions, the plan also jeopardizes the lives and livelihoods of many thousands of Aceh’s 4 million people. Flash floods already kill hundreds in Aceh each year and floods and droughts have major impacts on agricultural production. Human deaths and economic losses to local communities will both increase dramatically if these developments are not immediately halted.
SOCP is currently in the midst of developing an Orangutan Haven which will provide a refuge for rescued orangutans who, for reasons of health or disability caused by human impact, are unable to be released back into the wild. These orangutans currently reside in 6m x 6m quarantine cages at the SOCP centre. Once developed, the Orangutan Haven will allow these orangutans to roam freely and live enriching lives while still receiving the long-term care they need.
The Orangutan Haven will also help to promote the protection and preservation of native wildlife and their surrounding environment through education to influence a change in attitude and behaviour towards animal welfare, as well as demonstrate sustainable agriculture practices to encourage employment outside industries exploit the land.
In addition, the development of Orangutan Haven will provide local employment, protect the host of native wildlife species that live within and around the 46 hectare site, as well as protecting Medan’s main water source – the ecosystem which provides life to the area – from commercial development.
Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari, an SOCP collaborator, is an institution focused on environmental issues and community development, especially those living around conservation areas.
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Featured image: Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project