Last year the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund helped Harapan Rainforest start a hornbill nestbox scheme. This provides additional nest sites for hornbills while the forest regenerates and more large trees suitable for nesting become available. Lack of nest holes due to loss of large trees is a major threat to hornbills in Sumatra. Over the last year, our tree climbers have mounted 20 boxes at the dizzying heights of 25-30m above the forest floor.The good news for Harapan Rainforest’s hornbills (all nine of Sumatra's hornbill species are found in the forest) is that we have just secured funds from the Seaworld-Busch Gardens Conservation Fund to continue and expand our nestbox programme for another year. This is a terrific opportunity to develop even more community involvement in this work. We will recruit indigenous forest-dwelling community members to locate active hornbill nest sites in the coming breeding season. This will help us identify exactly what makes a good hornbill nest tree and what we can do to help improve this, either with our nestbox design or, long term, with our forest restoration plans.
It is very important for us to know how Harapan Rainforest is regenerating. To do that we need to know what it is like now. I’ve been running the inventory teams that have just finished the first phase of that work, covering just over half of Harapan Rainforest. It was a marathon effort, with 374 plots measured, taking nearly a year with six teams of eight people involved full-time. In each plot they recorded information on soil type and topography, and measured every tree. When we measure the trees again in a few years time, we should be able to tell how quickly the forest is regenerating. It could also be used to calculate how much carbon is being stored. At the start of the survey, each team could finish one plot a day, but by the end could do two. I hope that they can maintain this level of productivity in the second phase of the inventory, starting shortly.
We are currently celebrating the achievements of Harapan Rainforest’s mobile school. Twenty-one children between seven and 13 from the indigenous Bathin Sembilan community currently attend the school. They learn literacy and numeracy skills, and are introduced to ideas related to nature conservation. The school is popular with the government’s education department, which is currently validating it so that the pupils can leave with recognised qualifications. Though attendance fluctuates as families move within the forest, the school is enormously successful and is a source of pride for all of us at Harapan Rainforest. It offers a real opportunity to improve the livelihoods of indigenous communities who have tended to find themselves on the margins of mainstream society as their nomadic lifestyle makes it difficult for their children to attend conventional schools.