Saving the Heritage of Gunung Leuser National Park

Due to the increase threats (deforestation, forest degradation, loss of habitat, etc.) to Sumatran forest ecosystems, UNESCO has been working closely with national park authorities, local governments, academic institutions, local communities and civil society organizations to mitigate these threats. Since 2006, close collaboration and generous support from the Spanish Government and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) are helping to improve the conservation and effective management of the Gunung Leuser NP, a Biosphere Reserve and part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra.

To address these objectives, UNESCO has restored and re-established ground presence in Gunung Leuser NP through equipment provision and capacity building. Thus, several field offices have been constructed and rehabilitated along the west coast of Aceh and vehicles and IT and telecommunication equipment have been provided to the park. The presence of a well-equipped park with enough capacities and continuous monitoring and patrolling efforts has imposed a real and psychological pressure on the continuation of illegal activities within the park. Currently UNESCO is working closely with Gunung Leuser NP to further deepen in developing the capacities of the NP staff in protecting the integrity of the park and its species, by, among others, supporting the National Programme of the Ministry of Forestry to develop Resort Based Management which focuses on the smallest unit of the park.

Once the basic needs for managing the park were in place, UNESCO and Gunung Leuser NP worked together to identify and establish a system to effectively monitor the main threats to the integrity of the park, illegal logging and encroachment, through a law enforcement system which works at two levels: at a landscape level with GIS technology and at a field level with daily patrols and other methods. Using the information, Gunung Leuser NP can develop related strategies and actions to deal with the violations, including legal, policy and advocacy interventions.

UNESCO has also carried out an orangutan population census and habitat analysis in the National Park obtaining an in-depth updated analysis on the conservation status of orangutans in the park as well as a deep analysis of their threats, including physical and socio-economic ones. This comprehensive study has been the basis to develop agreed corrective measures to address the main threats to the orangutan population, in close coordination with main partners (NP, NGOs, local governments, research institutions, etc.)

Furthermore, UNESCO along with Orangutan Information Center (OIC) have worked together to establish the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) which regularly monitors potential conflicts in areas prone to crop-raiding by orangutans and identifies and maps key conflict areas in and around the Gunung Leuser NP through the use of a GIS program. The role of HOCRU is to provide timely responses to potential conflicts between human and orangutan populations, in areas in and around Gunung Leuser NP.

UNESCO and Gunung Leuser NP have also collaborated to improve the park conditions and local capacities for ecotourism market development, as well as to promote the national park as an international ecotourism stop. Examples from Bukit Lawang and Tangkahan in Gunung Leuser NP have exposed that tourism can make a difference in changing the attitude of communities towards the park. Once local communities start receiving incentives from the presence of tourism, they will support and protect the biodiversity in the park and significantly reduce forest crimes in these areas. To achieve so, UNESCO has carried out an study of ecotourism market in Gunung Leuser NP, improved the infrastructure of key visitor centers to the park, and provided merchandise for tourist to the park. Additionally, UNESCO is working together with the Orangutan Information Center and the community of Tangkahan to develop this site as a model community for sustainable community-based ecotourism destination in Gunung Leuser NP.

UNESCO has also carried out scientifically sound ecosystem restoration aimed to recover degraded forest areas by promoting the natural forest succession process. This initiative has combined a botanical study, and an anthropological approach to restore the ecosystem in previously encroached and degraded areas inside the park. Despite the results of this project will require several decades to be fully analysed, there are already clear signs of conclusive results, including significant low seedling mortality rate (below 10%), increasing of wildlife presence and significant reduction of illegal logging and encroachment around Sei Serdang and Tangkahan area. Following the lessons learnt on a scientifically sound restoration strategy for deforested areas inside the park, UNESCO will expand the restoration area in the other part of TRHS. In addition, results, lessons learnt and best practices of the ecosystem restoration, are being compiled and will be shared with relevant stakeholders at national level through a field guide and workshop.

Finally and knowing that public support is key for the effective protection of the park and the management of its natural resources, UNESCO in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), established a Conservation Mobile Unit (CIMO, Conservation Information Mobile) to improve the awareness of school children and local people who live in the buffer zone of the park. Besides, several awareness raising events were organized in Medan and Langkat Districts and Gunung Leuser NP also organized a seminar inviting more than 50 environmental journalists. Lastly, an 8-minute 3D animation film was also developed for elementary school students and was screened in the schools nearby the park, being its premier during the first Science Film Festival in Jakarta on November 2010.

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