An Indonesian has won the world’s most prestigious award for environmental activism for his efforts to fight illegal logging, forest encroachment for palm oil production, and a policy that would open up vast swathes of an endangered ecosystem for mining and industrial plantations.
Rudi Putra, a biologist who works in Sumatra’s Aceh Province, was on Monday honored with the $175,000 Goldman Environmental Prize. Putra was selected as the “Islands and Island Nations” winner.
Putra was recognized for his campaign to dismantle illegal oil palm plantations within Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, a habitat for critically endangered orangutans, tigers, rhinos, and elephants, as well as his activism around a plan to remove protected status for vast areas of forest across Aceh. That activism culminated in 2013 with a petition asking the Indonesian government to enforce conservation laws and reject Aceh’s proposal. The petition was signed more than 1.4 million times, catalyzing broader awareness of the issue and sparking intense international outcry.
The Goldman Environmental Foundation highlighted Putra’s effort to restore wildlife corridors in areas that were once illegal oil palm plantations.
- With support from local communities, Putra approached local police directly to enforce land protection laws and shut down illegal palm oil plantations. He spoke of the hundreds of thousands of families who lost their homes and loved ones during the 2006 Aceh floods and their struggles to access clean drinking water.
- He also approached palm oil plantation owners and reminded them that their actions were against the law. After Putra showed them the boundaries marking conservation areas, some owners voluntarily shut down the plantations and gave the land back to the government so that Putra and his colleagues could conduct restoration work.
- Putra’s sustained outreach and strategic negotiations, deploying carrots and sticks when necessary, resulted in the dismantling of more than 1,200 acres of illegal plantations in the Leuser Ecosystem. The rehabilitation of these forests after the clearance of the oil palm has recreated a critical wildlife corridor now used by elephants, tigers and orangutans for the first time in 12 years. The Sumatran rhino population in the Leuser Ecosystem has also inched up in the past decade.
Ian Singleton, an orangutan conservationist who has worked with Putra for years, agreed that the activist has had an outsized impact.
“He has always struck me as one of the most focused and dedicated Indonesian conservationists I have ever met,” Singleton told Mongabay.com. “He is certainly not one to make a song and dance of things, and instead keeps a low profile, plugging away at an issue until eventually his hard work pays off.”
“Rudi is a leading member of a large team of various players working hard to halt a devastating new spatial plan in the province of Aceh, Sumatra, which would destroy huge tracts of the Leuser Ecosystem and spell the death knell for its remaining elephants and rhinos, and possibly orangutans and tigers as well. This battle is far from won, but without people like Rudi taking part it would be a far harder battle to win.”
Due to criticism, Aceh’s spatial plan revision as originally proposed is now in limbo. The central government in Jakarta and the Aceh government have yet to come to an agreement that would allow the plan to proceed, buying environmentalists more time to make a case for protecting the province’s endangered forests. Putra is hopeful the Goldman Prize will now boost help that effort.
“The government has failed to do enough to stop forest conversion for oil palm — large areas of forest are not covered by the moratorium,” he told Mongabay.com. “It has also failed to stop encroachment, illegal logging, and mining inside conservation areas.”
“This fight is far from over but the Goldman Prize will help.”
Orangutan Outreach has been partners with International Animal Rescue (IAR) since 2009. The orangutans of West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) now have a safe haven at IAR’s Orangutan Rescue Center in Ketapang. There, they are cared for and rehabilitated by trained professionals until the day comes when they can be released into a safe forest or island sanctuary.
December 2012: The Sumatran orangutan is losing habitat fast. Pristine forest in Indonesia is being carved up, set on fire and converted into palm oil plantations at a shocking pace. The drive for profit is seeing palm oil companies also move into areas of protected forest – like the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest in Aceh. Home to many iconic species, including the densest population of the last remaining 6,600 Sumatran orangutans, Tripa is also a critical carbon storehouse for the planet.
The destruction of Tripa is having disastrous consequences: for the wildlife and biodiversity which is perishing with it, for the local communities whose livelihoods depend upon it, and for all the rest of us as carbon emissions escalate. Tragically, over 80% of orangutans in Tripa forest are estimated to have perished as a result of this habitat destruction.
But in a case that could make history, two palm oil companies are now facing court for operating illegally in Tripa. The tireless efforts of local and international NGOs have pushed this issue forward and it is about to become a real test case for Indonesia. If the law is upheld and the law-breakers are punished then there is hope for protecting other areas of forest in Indonesia in the future. If not, the law loses even more ground and greed gets the green light. International public pressure is urgently needed to help uphold Indonesia’s environmental laws and to take a stand against this blatant exploitation for the benefit of so few. Please add your voice and help show that the world is watching this case.
What you can do right now:
1. Sign this petition to demand that the law be upheld in the Tripa case:
2. Find out more and donate to the campaign at:
3. Like and Share this video as widely as possible.
Indonesia plans to use Rawa Tripa in its westernmost province of Aceh, where the country had a recent victory in peatlands protection, as learning grounds to improve forest governance and legal enforcement through license review.
This video gives description about the collaborative coordination between NGO’s, Local and Central Government efforts to reduce deforestation and forest which took swift actions.
Orangutans in Indonesia could be on the brink of extinction all for a product many Americans do not even know they are consuming. The Orangutans natural habitat in Indonesia are allegedly being burned down and decimated to make room for trees that produce palm oil.
Palm oil is a cheap ingredient that is used in almost half the items in American grocery stores. But because palm oil goes by so many different names it can be hard for consumers to identify it in the products they are purchasing.
Jane Velez-Mitchell spoke to Rolf Skar the Forest Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA. For more information visit Greenpeace.
To find out how you can adopt an orangutan check this link.
sign the petition at www.change.org/savetripa2
See the full story Friday night on Jane Velez-Mitchell at 7pm ET on HLN.
Vast swathes of land on the Indonesian island of Sumatra have been cleared for palm oil plantations and the native wildlife has been left with nowhere to go.
David Brill reports on the mission to rescue the orangutans and return them to the wild elsewhere.
Hundreds are being looked after by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, which also rescues those kept as pets in appalling conditions.
But on a visit to a decimated forest, it’s clear the conservation team still has a battle on its hands to save these human-like creatures.
EXTRA – For more information on the groups featured in David’s story, follow the links under ‘resources’ on SBS Dateline Website http://www.sbs.com.au/dateline/story/about/id/601533/n/Ape-Rescue. Earth 4 Orangutans also has information on Dr Ian Singleton’s speaking tour of Australia.
To adopt baby orangutan please visit http://www.orangutan.org.au/adopt_orphan_orangutan/Chocolate
Please sign the petition at http://www.change.org/savetripa2