Occasionally the camp at Harapan gets unexpected guests. The reticulated python I mentioned in my last post was one (that’s Marco from BirdLife International above doing his best snake charmer impression), but it arrived unaided. Another guest was brought in by some local villagers - an abandoned young wreathed hornbill. This amazing chick has been fed and cared for by the staff, and is now free flying up and down the camp's main 'street'. It’s now adult size, so stands about 1 foot high, and likes to perch on the balcony rails and beg for fruit. It’s become adept at catching food thrown for it in its massive bill, tossing the item in the air and gulping it down.
This is the second wreathed hornbill brought in. The first was raised in the same way, until one day it took off into the forest and didn't return, presumably now living wild. All nine species of hornbill that occur in Sumatra are found in Harapan. They’re fruit eaters, and roam the forest’s canopy tops on the lookout for fruiting trees. Like the singing gibbons, they’re noisy, but nowhere near as tuneful.
Illegal logging affects all rainforest wildlife, but hornbills are affected in more ways than one. Large fruit-bearing trees, especially figs, provide food for the hornbills, but as some of the tallest trees in the forest, they are the most likely targets for loggers. The tallest trees are also often the oldest ones, which are likely to have more holes for the hornbills to nest in. This means illegal logging deprives hornbills of not only their feed source, but also their homes.
Our other unexpected guests are people –encroachers. Back in April, Dieter updated you on the increase in encroachment we’ve experienced in Harapan over the last few months and that we’d be working with the Indonesian Government to tackle this issue. Well we spent much of Sunday agreeing a plan with the regional Governor to tackle encroachment in Harapan. After months of painstaking and difficult work, we now have a clear picture of how many people have moved into the forest, when they first arrived, and the area of land they’re illegally occupying. We now know that many encroachers are not local people – they’ve actually come to Harapan from further afield because they’ve heard they can acquire land (which isn’t the case as it belongs to the Government). Most of them aren’t looking to grow food but to plant a cash crop - oil palm. Very few of them are from the forest dependent community. Where they are local, we’re happy for them to stay because their way of life doesn’t threatened the forest.
We’ve had meetings with many of the encroachers and their representatives, to ensure they’re aware that their activities are illegal and to make proposals about how we can resolve the situation.
In the four areas where the problem is worst, these meetings have revealed a willingness to discuss the way forward with the authorities and mediators. This is great news, and will allow us to make proposals for what we do next. Obviously the starting point is the stopping of any felling, burning or clearing of the forest, to be followed by an agreed timetable for moving the encroachers from areas deeper within the forest to plots on the boundary.
Although the encroachers are breaking the law through their actions, we’re dependent on the authorities to act, as our staff have no powers to uphold the law. Our plans will take some time to implement, but we’re optimistic we can improve the situation.