For ten days now we have been touring Sumatra to bear witness to the true state of Indonesia’s rainforests - and everywhere we go we see forest destruction. It’s distressing, but at the same time it drives us to keep fighting against deforestation, like that caused by the creation of industrial plantations for pulp and paper by companies like Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). My name is Cakra, I am one of the ‘tiger’s eye’ activists participating in the tour, and although it is tiring, our desire to protect Indonesian rainforests keeps us going.
This week we travelled to Tesso Nilo National Park, one of the last remaining natural forests in Sumatra, but its existence is under threat. I’ve been imagining the beauty and biodiversity of our rainforests and hoping to see some of it at Tesso Nilo.
Instead what we saw on our way there worried me. Timber trucks were a regular sight during our journey. Si Maung (my bike’s name) kept moving, the King of the Forest – the Sumatran tiger – is a big inspiration for this trip and his stripes decorate my bike. Our team leader, Adhon gives us instructions to slow down and suddenly we see a big signboard ahead. It reads: PT. Arara Abadi. This is one of the companies owned by APP. My GPS (global positioning system) shows this location is not far from the spot where a Sumatran tiger became trapped and later died. This tragedy happened in July on the border of the concession area where we’ve now stopped.
Entering the concession area of PT. Arara Abadi, we’re immediately met with a view of destruction. We stop to document it and together our whole team approaches an area of peatland, which has been destroyed. It used to be the tiger’s home. The peat dome was opened to dry the peat, releasing the large amounts of carbon stored there. This destruction of peatlands contributes to Indonesia having the third highest carbon emissions in the world, after the US and China. After the peatlands have dried, this concession will become a monoculture plantation for producing pulpwood. This is exactly the kind of destructive activity that we are trying to stop.
Tiger activists crossing the canal in concession area of PT Arara Abadi, a supplier to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). The activists are touring Sumatra to highlight Indonesia's deforestation. Image: Ulet Ifansasti
After documenting the destruction at PT. Arara Abadi concession, we continue our journey, to Tesso Nilo. Arriving there we were greeted by Novi, Dono, Indro, Tesso, Nela, Ria, Rahman, Lisa, Villa and little Imbo. They are a group of Sumatran elephants from the Flying Squad Camp WWF (World Wildlife Federation), inside Tesso Nilo National Park. We enjoyed the most unique welcome ceremony so far on our tour as we were given leis (garlands) by the elephants themselves.
One of the Tesso Nilo Fling Squad elephants places a lei on a Greenpeace activist dressed in tiger costume during their visit to the National Park - one of the last remaining natural forests in Sumatra. Image: Ulet Ifansasti
Syamsuardi, the WWF Riau Flying Squad Coordinator, explained that the importance of elephants and tigers as ‘umbrella species’ is because their roaming distance can be very far. One Sumatran tiger (Panthera Tigris Sumatrae) has a roaming range of up to 100 km square. And the elephant’s range is up to 60 km square. This means that if elephant and tiger habitat can be protected, a lot of other species that live within the vast areas they roam in will also be protected.
In the afternoon, it’s time for the elephants to take a bath. We get the chance to shower and feed them, and then tour Tesso Nilo National Park. It’s a fascinating place, but also a challenging place, as it’s one of the last remaining natural forests and must be protected from the kind of destruction we just witnessed at PT Arara Abadi concession.
During our tour we pass close to forest next to a river and find tiger’s footprints. These footprints show us that this area is natural habitat for the Sumatran Tiger, seeing the paw marks is so exciting. It makes us feel closer to the animal and the forests we are trying to protect. As we continue our tour throughout Sumatra we will keep collecting new facts on the status of its natural forests. We will continue asking for all Indonesian people - and people all over the world - to bear witness, to become the ‘eye of the tiger’ with us, and urge companies to stop destroying forests and become more responsible for protecting nature.
I know that deforestation and animal extinction will be closely related to the loss of Indonesian culture. I do not want to be the generation who failed to protect Indonesia’s forests from the greedy. The future of our forest is the future of Indonesia. I hope the next generation - such as Almira (one of the Indonesian President’s grandchildren) – will still be able to enjoy the beauty of Tesso Nilo and its biodiversity. I hope that Almira’s grandfather – President SBY - and all Indonesian people will take the necessary action to protect Indonesia’s forests now.
There is still time to stop the destruction.