Sumatran Restorators back to Big Scrub

Two Sumatran rainforest restorers from Rainforest Rescue’s project partner, the Orangutan Information Centre in North Sumatra, have recently completed a 10 day Skill and Cultural Exchange Tour of the Big Scrub area. Darjo Lismaidi and Ahmad Azhari (Ari) work in both wildlife conservation and rainforest restoration and their tour follows an August 2010 visit by Ari and Panut Hadisiswoyo. Ken Dorey reports on a luncheon conversation with Ari and the Rainforest Rescue staff at Crystal Castle

I recently had the pleasure of having lunch with the staff of Rainforest Rescue at the Crystal Castle, Mullumbimby. The occasion was a visit by two rainforest regenerators, Darjo Lismaidi and Ahmad Azhari (Ari) who work in Sumatra’s Gunung Leuser National Park as part of RR’s Indonesia Orangutan Habitat for Survival Project; the project aims to restore habitat for the endangered orangutan by educating and engaging  communities to rehabilitate illegally cleared rainforest.

Ari and Darjo work in both wildlife conservation and rainforest restoration and were hosted by RR on a two week Skill and Cultural Exchange Tour (16-30 September). Their itinerary has included working with Dave Rawlins, local bush regenerator, to experience rainforest restoration on local properties, visiting a range of sites and meeting as many local people engaged in rainforest regeneration as possible. They also attended the 2011 Big Scrub Rainforest Day.

Sitting across from Ari, I had the opportunity to talk to him, albeit in broken English, about rainforest regeneration techniques in Sumatra. According to Ari, rainforest regeneration is a developing art in the Gunung Leuser NP; sections of the national park have been illegally cleared to establish palm oil plantations.

Their first efforts were wide spaced pioneer species plantings (3×3 m) but on a previous visit to Australia in August 2010 with fellow regenerator Panut Hadisiswoyo (see Sharing Big Scrub Knowledge, BSL Newsletter 40) he had seen the closer spaced planting incorporating mature phase species. Ari said that he was impressed by the 1×1 m spacings of planted trees as he thought that this better mimicked the rainforest where there were no spaces and each plant had to compete for the sunlight.

I explained to Ari that here our forest plantings are small and often removed from large seed sources and so we feel justified in planting the full range of species in close plantings but, I would have thought, that with his large nearby forests and soil seed banks pioneer species alone might be effective.

Ari disagreed. Back in Sumatra, Ari experimented with the closer plantings and he believes that the faster tree growth is already evident.

Also, he patiently explained, their priority-planting site is a corridor planting between two large rainforest remnants; it takes 40 minutes to walk from one forest to the other, a distance of more than 5 km. The gap between the forests is a very dry, wild grass area that burns every year and one of Ari’s first tasks was to find a way of killing the grass so he could plant the pioneer species. He could not use herbicides as a primary tool because there is a distinct wet and dry season and the dead grass would burn in the dry season. By walking forward, stepping on a plank, they were able to press the grass down and then, three weeks later, when new grass shoots they are able to spray the reshooting grass stubble with glyphosate.

Once the grass has been sprayed, and the knocked down grass has begun to decompose, native seedlings begin to appear. They clear around the regenerating trees and plant as well, using more dead grass from outside the planting as mulch.

I asked Ari where he sourced his trees to plant – they use local people to collect the seed from the forest and to work in the nursery. One of the big problems in his country, he says, is encroachment into national parks but this is no longer happening at Gunung Leuser as the local people have been involved in the project.

Many Big Scrub rainforest species have ‘tricks’ to germination that have taken local nursery people a lot of effort to discover. I was curious as to how they germinated their seed and fruits and so asked Ari if they had had any problems getting the seeds to sprout. There are difficulties, he said, but they had learnt many techniques from their previous visit to Australia and they were now using them in their nursery; they ‘chop’ some seeds and boil others. Seed collecting and propagation must be an art in itself as Sumatra has thousands of species of trees in its rainforests as compared to the Big Scrub’s 400 or so.

They had also learnt other bush regeneration concepts. Ralph Woodford had taught them about the seed bank in the soil and how to care for the trees – Ari likes our methods. 

I asked Ari if any local regenerators had visited the Gunung Leuser NP. He was very pleased to tell me that Ralph, and some others he hoped, would visit them next year – “Ralph is a very interesting and clever guy,” he says. Dave Rawlins stayed in a local homestay in a nearby village to the GLNP in March 2011 and worked with the project for 10 days.

Apart from our rainforests being very small, I asked Ari if he noticed differences in the Australian subtropical rainforests to those of Sumatra. The species are different, he said, although he does recognize many. Each area has things that belong just in that area. “You have the koala while we have the orangutan – every place is special,” Ari believes.

Ari was very excited to tell me that they had good news just before leaving to come to Australia. For the first time orangutans had been seen in a remnant fig tree amongst one of their regeneration sites. “In Sumatra, the orangutan is king of the forest as it gives many seeds.” Each year, in May and June, wild elephants come through the forest and, this year, literally through Ari’s living area and the nursery. Elephants also move seed about, especially the macaranga fruits, which get embedded in their hair.

A goal of the Gunung Leuser NP is to incorporate eco-tourism. Ari says that 30 people from various countries visited this year and that they stayed with the local people in local homestays in a village located on the edge of the GLNP and project site. People interested in experiencing the project in North Sumtatra are welcome to make enquires with Rainforest Rescue.

With our lunch finished and the obligatory group photo in front of the giant crystal completed, we had an opportunity to do a quick tour of the rainforest plantings at the Crystal Castle – the plantings themselves are deserving of a separate newsletter article in the near future.

I’d like to thank Rainforest Rescue for inviting me to join their lunch and for the opportunity to meet Ari and Darjo. I’d like to also thank Ari his patience and perseverance in answering my questions – all while his lunch was getting cold.

I’d also like to thank Rainforest Rescue and their supporters, who are not just major contributors to the Big Scrub and other iconic rainforests, but who are doing an excellent job in taking rainforest regeneration techniques to the wider world.


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