Forests for Future: Protecting Rainforests & Endangered Orangutans

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Recent studies have indicated that expansion of our planet’s forests is a critical step toward mitigating climate change. This, along with conservation of our existing forests, specifically ones that host a large amount of biodiversity — like rainforests — is more important than ever.

The rainforests of Indonesian Borneo house millions of tons of carbon within its ecosystem. Preserving them is vital not only because its natural processes help reverse climate change. This ecological community also supports a vast amount of biodiversity, including the critically endangered species of Bornean orangutan in Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park (BBBR). This national park is one of the last intact ecosystems that can support reintroduced orangutans, but the region has been subject to increased deforestation and hunting in recent decades, devastating the 234,624,030-hectare (905,000 square miles) protected area and its diminishing the orangutan population over the past 20 years.

Losing this forest, and the orangutan population within it, will mean losing another key species that keeps our planet habitable and healthy.

Forests for Future Campaign

This is why we at Health In Harmony have partnered with International Animal Rescue on an innovative joint campaign called Forests for Future. We intend to halt rainforest deforestation and save the critically endangered species of Bornean orangutan. The collaboration is rehabilitating the forest and orangutan population through a combination of species reintroduction and monitoring as well as health care, alternative livelihood training, and educational programs for local people. The campaign, which launched July 29 and runs through August 31, 2019, seeks to raise $50,000 for these efforts.

Our partnership began in 2016, when International Animal Rescue contacted Health In Harmony for assistance in preserving the dwindling populations of Bornean orangutans in BBBR. We are a nonprofit specializing in planetary health working with the Borneo rainforest community to identify the root causes of the deforestation. We develop solutions to reduce the need for rampant logging and hunting in the region.

International Animal Rescue rehabilitates and reintroduces orangutans rescued from fire, conflict, or captivity into the rainforest to create a stable population. Based on community feedback we received, our solutions have focused on high-quality healthcare for the local community and conservation interventions. With healthcare improvements successfully underway, Forests for Future now kicks off the partnership’s conservation tactics.

Starting with establishing two midwives and monthly mobile clinics in September of 2018, our healthcare initiatives aim to eliminate the need for the BBBR communities to illegally log or hunt to pay for healthcare and medical emergencies. International Animal Rescue has also invested in the communities by providing alternative livelihood strategies, engaging local mothers directly in their conservation work by hiring them as porters on the orangutan reintroduction trips, and provided educational scholarships to 19 local students from the forest edge communities to ensure they gain a middle- and senior-level education.

Protecting Rainforests, Improving Community Health

Funds raised by Forests for Future will directly support protecting and rehabilitating the rainforest and orangutan habitat while improving community health and incomes.

People who previously resorted to logging will be trained in sustainable farming so they can make a safer, more environmentally-friendly living for their families. This training will de-incentivize illegal logging and support reforestation efforts. Local leaders, called Forest Guardians, will support their communities to reduce deforestation.

Over the past 10 months, the new medical team has seen more than a third of the entire rainforest population, and a dozen healthy babies have been delivered in an area that previously had extremely high maternal and infant mortality. International Animal Rescue also reintroduced 41 orangutans in BBBR; they are closely monitored by 53 local staff to ensure healthy acclimation. With the funds raised from Forests for Future, they hope to successfully reintroduce and monitor another 10 orangutans.

Forests for Future will protect one of the most critical orangutan habitats, improve the health and incomes of local communities that steward this rainforest, and facilitate forest regrowth that will sequester carbon. It is also a step towards a healthier planet.

To help fund this work, visit Forests for Future.

About the Author

Dr. Kinari Webb founded  Health In Harmony in 2005 on the understanding that human health and rainforest health are intertwined, interdependent and, when addressed together, reduce climate change and promote planetary health. The nonprofit organization facilitates locally-designed solutions with the people who live on the borders of rainforests, in order to greatly reduce the illegal logging that is responsible for up to 80 percent of the deforestation occurring today. Health In Harmony works in partnership with these communities to improve the health of their people and increase their ability to be self-sustaining, while decreasing the deforestation that contributes to climate change.

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