The SOCP first began activities in 1999 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between PanEco, YEL, Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation. One of its first targets was to establish a modern, state-of the-art quarantine facility for confiscated illegal pets and a reintroduction program to release rescued orangutans back to the wild. To that end, in 2002 the SOCP opened its Batu Mbelin Orangutan Quarantine and Rehabilitation Station, just outside the North Sumatran capital city of Medan.
Since the start of SOCP over 360 orangutans have been rescued and cared for at Batu Mbelin, and more than 270 have already been rehabilitated and reintroduced back to the rainforests for a second chance at life in the wild. The 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, population trends, and conservation threats.
The SOCP has long been seen as the foremost authority on the status and distribution of remaining wild orangutans across the island, and we are proud to be key player in the battle to save such iconic species and their remaining forest habitat.
The SOCP was started in 1999 under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s then Directorate General for Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHKA, now KSDAE), Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (YEL), and the PanEco Foundation.
The Indonesian ‘Sustainable Ecosystem Foundation’ (Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari; YEL) is based in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia. YEL manages, coordinates and implements all SOCP activities in Indonesia, and is the Swiss-based PanEco’s primary local partner foundation in the country.
As well as the SOCP, YEL is also active in community development projects, including promoting ecotourism, sustainable organic agriculture, and environmental education.
The Indonesian Government helps is an implementing partner of the SOCP, via the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Directorate General for Natural Resource and Ecosystem Conservation (Ditjen KSDA). There are multiple Memoranda of Understanding signed between YEL and SOCP, and much collaboration therein as without the Government’s support and expertise the SOCP would simply not be able to function or thrive. On a regular basis, YEL coordinates all activities with the Ditjen KSDAE via its local provincial offices who play an active role in project oversight, and as well in conservation law enforcement through their ability to charge perpetrators and confiscate wildlife from the illegal pet trade.
The innovative Orang-Utan Coffee Project works with local farmers in the Gayo highlands of Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia to produce and market environmentally friendly organic coffee to roasters and coffee lovers all around the world. Specially trained local farmers in the project all commit to zero forest loss for all of their yields, and for their efforts they gain a significant premium from adopting this and other facets of Orang-Utan Coffee Standards. An additional premium from the Orang–Utan Coffee Project also goes directly to implement the SOCP.
The Swiss-based PanEco Foundation supports and implements projects in nature conservation and education. For the SOCP, PanEco works with several partners and assists in the management, fundraising and implementation of the initiative. PanEco also implements environmental education, conservation and sustainable development projects in Switzerland
The SOCP invests a great deal into habitat conservation, as a foundation to ensure the long-term survival of the two species of orangutan in Sumatra - with both being listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, the Sumatran and Tapanuli orangutan. We do this through focusing our efforts on the species’ two primary landscapes: the Leuser Ecosystem and Batang Toru Ecosystem. Beyond this, we are also investing much into Jantho Nature Reserve, where we are reintroducing rehabilitated orangutans, and in the process, we are creating an entirely new, genetically viable population as a sort of ‘safety net’ to ensure species survival well into the future.
Home to more than 85% of all remaining Sumatran orangutans, the 2.6-million-hectare Leuser Ecosystem straddles the border of North Sumatra and Aceh provinces in Sumatra, Indonesia.
Despite its undeniable value, the Leuser Ecosystem remains under considerable threat. Encroachment at its edges, from the small- to large-scale, the ever-present problem of unsustainable oil palm concessions, hunting and poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, and new infrastructure projects (e.g. roads) are all persistent problems. All of which serve to fragment the forest and increase all these pressures through increased access further into what could only be described as pristine wilderness. Working closely with our partners, we are constantly working to eliminate these threats and strengthen protection of ecosystem in perpetuity.
The Leuser Ecosystem’s three coastal peat swamp forests (Tripa, Kluet, and Trumon-Singkil) harbor the highest densities of orangutans anywhere in the world – as much as ten times higher than seen in Borneo. Relative to forests on mineral soils, peat swamp forests tend to have nutrient-poor soils with inadequate drainage, and also lack the huge emergent dipterocarp trees that are characteristic of dryland tropical rainforests. Peat swamp forests also tend to be very wet and humid, and as such, trees rot and fall regularly, producing a dense tangle of smaller understory trees, tall grasses, and lianas. Even in the dry season, most of the forest floor is flooded to at least ankle or knee depth, whereas in the wet season it can reach chest height or even deeper in some places. This labyrinth of waterlogged natural growth makes travel along the ground incredibly difficult (imagine being an orangutan researcher trying to follow them through the forest each day from dawn-dusk!).
Since the underground peat layers are almost pure carbon, peat swamp forests are huge stores of this important greenhouse gas. Furthermore, peat swamp forests store far greater amounts of carbon below ground, rather than above ground in trees and vegetation, making their preservation an important goal in the mitigation of global climate change. These forests also serve as valuable carbon sinks, mitigating climate change. Despite conversion of large areas for oil palm plantation, the remaining peat swamp forests of Aceh still hosts around 200 wild Sumatran orangutans.
The Batang Toru Ecosystem, close to 150,000 ha in size, is fully located within the province of North Sumatra and is the only home of the Critically Endangered Tapanuli orangutan. First identified in November 2017 as a fully distinct from the Sumatran species, the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) – named after the Tapanuli district of North Sumatra in which they are found - was the first new species of great ape in decades. Sadly, as soon as the species was identified, they were almost immediately classified as Critically Endangered. With only about 800 individuals though to remain, indeed the species might be the most endangered great ape species on the planet.
Research has revealed that the orangutans in the Batang Toru Ecosystem are the last surviving remnants of an ancestral wild population that once stretched from Lake Toba to the north all the way to the south of Sumatra. This suggests that all modern-day orangutans Sumatra and all those on the neighboring island of Borneo are descended from this now largely extinct ancestral population, of which only the Batang Toru orangutans remain. Due to their genetic uniqueness, the Tapanuli orangutan deserves the highest conservation effort.
Apart from the majestic and incredibly unique orangutans, Batang Toru is also home to (Critically) Endangered Sumatran tigers, pangolins, helmeted hornbills, sun bears, tapirs, and a host of other rare and threatened species, including more than 300 types of bird recorded thus far.
The Jantho Pine Forest Nature Reserve (hereafter referred to as Jantho), in Aceh Besar District, near the northern tip of Aceh Province, has status as a ‘Cagar Alam’ or Strict Nature Reserve, which is the highest protection status possible under Indonesian Law. It comprises over 16,000 hectares of predominantly lowland rainforest, with coniferous stands and an endemic pine subspecies on higher ridges, hence its name as a ‘Pine Forest’. The site is a protected area of exceptionally rich lowland forest, with an unusual high density of fig trees, one of the orangutan’s staple foods. There is also a river which is at the foot of the forest, which can be crossed by people, but cannot be crossed by orangutans making it an effective natural barrier in a reintroduction setting.
Several detailed and comprehensive surveys carried out by the SOCP between 1990-2009 determined Jantho to be exceptional orangutan habitat, with a particularly rich forest easily able to support in excess of 300-500 individual orangutans. Aside from the new orangutan population being established in Jantho the area is also an important habitat for Critically Endangered Sumatran tigers and Sumatran elephants, with a group of over 20 elephants regularly passing near the basecamp. The Jantho Reserve is also contiguous with the mostly primary forest Ulu Masen Ecosystem, covering circa 750,000 ha, most of which is protected lowland forest into which the new orangutan population will eventually disperse as it expands. Thus, a near limitless carrying capacity is available for the new population. A further 50 orangutans are currently housed at SOCP’s Quarantine Centre, progressing through socialization training until they are also ready for reintroduction and a second chance at a life in the wild at Jantho.
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