Background to SOCP habitat campaign in Tripa
SOCP’s Director, Dr Ian Singleton, having studied orangutans in the peat swamps of Suaq balimbing in the 1990’s has always maintained a serious interest and concern over all three peat swamps on the west coast of Aceh, namely those of Singkil, Kluet (where the Suaq Balimbing research station is located) and Tripa.
Indeed, since orangutans in the peat swamps possess a unique tool use culture , and as these swamps harbor the highest densities of orangutans in the world, Ian often describes them as the “orangutan capital of the world”!
However, during the 1990’s most of the Tripa swamp was handed out to oil palm concessions. Some of these cleared most of their forests, whilst others cleared on a small part. Some also planted their cleared areas, whilst others planted only a fraction. Then in 1999, hostilities between the Aceh Seperatist movement and the central Jakarta Government escalated, and the province descended into a violent armed conflict for the next several years. During this time, the palm oil companies ceased operations and their concessions were left virtually abandoned. So much so, that when Ian was finally able to get into Tripa again, in January 2005, just after the devastating 2004 tsunami, he found that forests were alreay regenerating naturally on large areas of the concessions.
The SOCP then decided to try its best to prevent a resumption for the companies activities in Tripa, seeing that the area had a second chance for recovery and played a cricuial role in protecting the areas people from the worst impacts of the tsunami. We pushed hard for several years to get support from both provincial and national governments to relocate the concessions and protect Tripa. But ultimately it did not succeed and most of the companies resumed work once again, tidying up already cleared and planted areas and clearing more forests.
Then in August 2011, a new concession was granted to a company called PT Kallista Alam in Tripa by the then Governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf. This concession was clearly illegal, since the Leuser Ecosystem was by then a National Strategic Area for environmental protection and a moratorium by Indonesia’s president banned new concessions in primary forests and peatlands. Local communities in Tripa then filed a report to the National police in Jakarta, and local environmental group WALHI Aceh, took the Governor to court for issuing an illegal permit. The WALHI case was pusued in Banda Aceh and Medan, and eventually led to the new Governor of Aceh cancelling the permit, after the Medan courts found it was indeed illegal.
Not long after the court cases were first filed, in March 2012, huge deliberately set fires raged through concessions owned by PT Kalista Alam and one next to it belonging to PT Surya Panen Subur II (PTSPS2). These fires received massive national and international attention, largely as a result of campaigns led by SOCP and partners, especially WALHI. This was so successful that now both PT Kallista Alam and PT SPS2 are being challenged in court by the Indonesian Government’s own Ministry of Environment.
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