Every minute, a forested area the size of five football fields is cleared on the Indonesian island of Sumatra to make way for paper, rubber and palm oil plantations. Destruction at this pace can be difficult to imagine, but it is the reality for the endangered species and indigenous groups that live in the Sumatran rainforest.

Half of Sumatra’s forest cover was destroyed between 1985 and 2008 due to logging and palm oil expansion. Despite instituting a moratorium on new logging contracts in 2010, Indonesia’s forests have continued to disappear. By 2012, deforestation rates outpaced even those of Brazil. Today, only 25 percent of the island’s original forest remains intact.

To protect against further destruction, Rainforest Trust has launched a fundraising campaign in time for Earth Day, which aims to conserve threatened rainforest in central Sumatra.

Saving Sumatra’s Species

Sumatra's Animals are in Danger of Extinction Due to Palm Oil. Here's What We're Doing to HelpFlickr


The tropical lands so highly prized by plantation owners are the same ones preferred by Sumatra’s most threatened species. As a result, populations of orangutans, elephants and tigers have dropped precipitously over the years and are now faced with extinction.

Fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers are still alive in the wild today. More than 30 of these critically endangered big cats live in the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem – one of Sumatra’s most important intact rainforests. Because of its strategic importance, the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape was declared a “Global Priority Tiger Conservation Landscape” in 2006, one of just 20 in the world.

Moreover, 150 of the remaining 1,300 Sumatran elephants left in the wild have homes in the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem. While much of Sumatra’s remaining forest consists of areas smaller than 100 square miles – an area too small for viable elephant populations – the forests in this region are still large enough to support multiple elephant herds.

Also at risk are the Sumatran orangutans that prefer fruit-rich lowland forests just like the Sumatran elephants. Of the approximately 6,300 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild, over 150 are found in the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem. Many of these orangutans living in Central Sumatra have been successfully reintroduced after being rescued from the illegal pet trade.

How Deforestation Impacts Local Communities

Sumatra's Animals are in Danger of Extinction Due to Palm Oil. Here's What We're Doing to HelpFlickr

It is difficult to overstate the importance of keeping the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem intact. In addition to the endangered species living in this area, two indigenous groups also call the forest home and depend upon the land for their livelihood and continued survival.

The Orang Rimba, or “jungle people,” is a nomadic group that has inhabited the jungles of Sumatra for centuries, traveling in tight-knit family groups. Although mostly reclusive, the Orang Rimba occasionally interacts with villages on the edge of the forest to trade their goods. The Talang Mamak tribe, which remains reliant on hunting and gathering practices, lives exclusively in two central Sumatran provinces. The Orang Rimba and the Talang Mamak have been living on their traditional lands for centuries, but do not possess legal land rights and are thus equally vulnerable to continuing deforestation.

What We’re Doing and How You Can Help

Working with local Sumatran partner Yayasan Konservasi Ekosistem Hutan Sumatera (YKEHS), Rainforest Trust will create three protected areas upon completion of the project, totaling 200,396 acres of rainforest.

To celebrate Earth Day’s 45th anniversary on April 22, Rainforest Trust is raising $85,000 to protect the first 25,000 acres of the reserve. Thanks to an anonymous matching pledge, one acre of rainforest can be protected for only $3.41.

With over 75 percent of Sumatra’s forest destroyed, the preservation of large, functioning rainforest ecosystems has never been more imperative. The creation of new protected areas will help protect the future for both Sumatra’s indigenous peoples and its endangered species.

To donate to Rainforest Trust’s Earth Day campaign and join the conservation effort, click here.

Lead image source: Jordi Paya/Flickr