What’s at Stake
30 Hills is one of the last examples of the kind of landscapes that earned Indonesia the nickname “Emerald of the Equator”: dense canopy, lush rainforests of incredible biodiversity and rolling hills. This landscape is the last refuge for some of Sumatra’s endangered wildlife, as most of the island’s dense forests are already gone. Known in the Indonesian language as Bukit Tigapuluh, this landscape – an area slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island, 800,400 acres (324 hectares) – contains some of the largest blocks of remaining lowland forest on the island.
30 Hills is home to at least 193 bird and 80 mammal species, many found nowhere else on Earth. 30 Hills also has high plant biodiversity: more than 1,500 types of flora have been recorded here. A biomedical expedition in 1988 found that indigenous communities used 182 species and eight mushroom species to treat disease.
Several endangered species are living and breeding in the threatened 30 Hills area:
- More than 30 Sumatran tigers. With just 400 of these tigers left in the wild protecting the population living in 30 Hills is critical to maintaining the species. In fact, a team of world-renowned scientists declared the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape a “Global Priority Tiger Conservation Landscape” – one of just 20 in the world – in 2006. In 2011, WWF camera traps filmed 12 tigers living in just one small forest block inside 30 Hills, including a set of extremely rare tiger triplets. In addition to losing their habitat to forest clearing here, these tigers are under an additional assault from poachers for their body parts, which are highly valued on the black market. Logging roads built by Asia Pulp & Paper provide easy access for poachers to formerly inaccessible forests.
- More than 150 Sumatran elephants. This subspecies of the Asian elephant is critically endangered, with only an estimated 2,400-2,800 elephants remaining. Elephants prefer natural forest in flat areas, so if this landscape is clear cut they will have nowhere else to go. Today, human-elephant conflicts are very common in the 30 Hills landscape, along the forest’s edges where interaction with humans cannot be avoided. These conflicts will dramatically rise if the elephants lose their remaining forest.
- 130 Sumatran orangutans. Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered – with an estimated 6,300 left in the wild. Since 2002, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, with help from The Orangutan Project and in collaboration with the Ministry of Forestry, has been running the world’s only successful reintroduction program for Sumatran orangutans. Most of these great apes are survivors of the illegal pet trade. Cute infant orangutans are desired as pets and since mothers will never willingly give up their babies, poachers kill the wild mothers and take the babies for trade. Once the orangutans are full-grown and hard to handle, they are often relinquished to rehabilitation centers. Others are confiscated from inhumane conditions. Those that can be rehabilitated are prepared for life in the wild at field camps before their release into the 30 Hills forests. Though the majority of orangutans in 30 Hills are released at the boundary of the National Park, they chose to live in the fruit-rich lowland forests outside the protected park. As the Indonesian government’s national plan for orangutan conservation notes, the great apes can survive in any forest type except industrial plantations – the kind slated for much of 30 Hills.
- 30 Hills is also home to many other endangered species including Sun bears, clouded leopards, leopard cats, marbled cats, Dhole (Asiatic wild dog), Malayan civets, and Malayan tapirs.
Two indigenous tribes — the Talang Mamak and Orang Rimba – call 30 Hills home.
Talang Mamak People: There are approximately 8,000 members of the Talang Mamak community, which is a tribe who live solely in the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape. They are a hunting and gathering society that lives in communities. The Talang Mamak tribe lives exclusively in two provinces in central Sumatra around 30 Hills.
Orang Rimba People: The Orang Rimba – which literally means “jungle people” – are a nomadic group that depend entirely on the forest for survival. These indigenous people have inhabited the jungles of Sumatra for centuries, traveling in tight-knit family groups in the forests, hunting, fishing and collecting non-timber forest products from their lands for trading. The Orang Rimba occasionally interact with villages on the edge of the forest to trade their goods, but they mostly keep to themselves. There are approximately 500 Orang Rimba people living in the 30 Hills area.
Like other indigenous people, the Orang Rimba and the Talang Mamak largely live outside mainstream Indonesian culture and though they have been living on their traditional lands for centuries, their right to be there is not legally acknowledged. If the 30 Hills area is cleared by the logging industry, these people will lose everything. Without the bountiful food and protection that the forest provides, they will face a future of exposure to outside disease and extreme poverty.