By Jan Vertefeuille, WWF's Senior Director, Advocacy, Wildlife Conservation
Indonesia earned the nickname “Emerald of the Equator” for good reason. Its lush, green forests once covered much of the country’s 17,000 islands, nearly unparalleled in their biodiversity. Much of that forest is gone now. Tropical forest throughout the country has disappeared at an alarming rate due to deforestation and development. But there are still places where a journey into the forests here yields surprising discoveries and some of the rarest species on Earth. One spectacular swath of tropical forest is called “Thirty Hills” and WWF and partners are doing everything we can to save it. Deep in the heart of Sumatra, Indonesia, almost 10,000 miles from the United States, you’ll find “Thirty Hills”—a refuge for critically endangered tigers, elephants, orangutans, and the indigenous communities that call these forests home. Picture a landscape with rolling emerald hills, dense jungle canopy rich in biodiversity that extends to the horizon. This is Thirty Hills, also known as Bukit Tigapuluh, and one of the last places on the planet where tigers, elephants, and orangutans coexist. And now, Thirty Hills has been granted long-term protection. Several years ago, WWF and partners, the Frankfurt Zoological Society and The Orangutan Project, set out to get critical parts of Thirty Hills rezoned from logging forests to “conservation concessions.” This August, our efforts finally paid off—Indonesia’s Ministry of the Environment and Forestry recognized the importance of the landscape and provided a “lease on the land” to WWF and partners to ensure that 100,000 acres of lowland rain forest in Sumatra—the kind of flat terrain that elephants prefer—is protected for conservation and restoration projects.
Step beyond the boundaries of Thirty Hills, and it’s easy to see why the work we’re doing is so vital. In other parts of central Sumatra, the scorched remains of ancient forests litter a barren landscape— miles and miles of forests lost to deliberately set forest fires, commercial clearing, or illegal logging. Sumatra—still one of the most biodiverse places on the planet—has lost more than half its forests in the last thirty years. The region has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. Knowing what was at stake, WWF cultivated a broad base of support to protect Thirty Hills. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, a WWF board member, helped bring much-needed attention to the cause. “To protect this landscape, WWF and its partners had to think big and think differently,” he said. “We are working together to ensure the protection of an extraordinary place and create a better future for the local communities of the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape.” We’ll need to work hard to ensure Thirty Hills remains a safe haven for wildlife and indigenous people. Anti-poaching patrols and forest protection monitoring groups will keep an eye out for poaching and illegal logging, and we’ll work closely with local communities and officials to build programs that restore and protect the mega-diverse landscape from deforestation and poaching threats. The future is bright for Thirty Hills. It’s a future that holds great promise for its indigenous tribes and the critically endangered species that call this paradise home. With this new lease on the land, we now have a chance to be part of helping restore the Emerald of the Equator. Few places inspire awe quite like Thirty Hills. It’s a spectacular place. We aim to keep it that way.
To learn more about WWF’s efforts to protect Thirty Hills visit: worldwildlife.org/Thirtyhills
© Fletcher & Baylis / WWF-Indonesia | © WWF-Indonesia/Samsul Komar