Great News for Sumatran Rhinos

PT Agra Bumi Niaga Sets Aside Forests for Rhino Sanctuary

Sensitive lovers, the fate of the smallest and hairiest of the world’s rhinoceros now rests in the protection of its last habitat within the globally important 2.6 million hectare Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia. The ultimate survival of these shy, forest rhinos now depends on the protection of their habitat and success of a new rhino sanctuary being established in the Aceh Timur region of northern Sumatra, an area known both as a global epicentre of biodiversity and also for severe deforestation for Conflict Palm Oil.

Amidst the evidence of an uptick in forest clearing by palm oil companies inside the Leuser Ecosystem, one company, PT Agra Bumi Niaga (PT ABN), has issued a new commitment to set aside forests so they can be used as areas to collect young shoots, roots, fruits and leaves to feed the critically endangered rhinos being cared for in a soon to be established sanctuary and breeding centre. The company’s conservation actions stem from market pressure it received after being previously exposed for destroying forests for palm oil in the Leuser Ecosystem.

This is great news for Sumatran rhinos, an iconic wildlife species that few people have seen alive and has been reduced to less than 80 individuals left in the wild after relentless encroachment into its habitat.

The sanctuary is an initiative between local, district, provincial and national governments of Indonesia, international and Acehnese NGOs, universities, and now two palm oil producers and will be built on the forest edge of the northeast Leuser Ecosystem. These lowland forests are an epicentre of forest clearance for palm oil development. The second company supporting the initiative is Mopoli Raya — the first palm oil company in Aceh to commit to protect High Carbon Stock forests within its concessions from conversion into palm oil.

Cooperation of this nature is so welcome and represents just the kind of innovative conservation approaches needed to save the endangered species that call the Leuser Ecosystem home. This breakthrough agreement sets a precedent by demonstrating the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Environment, and provincial and district governments in Aceh can work together with local stakeholders to stop deforestation caused by commodity production in one of the world’s last, and most important, tropical rainforests.

In June 2020, the palm oil company PT ABN issued a letter outlining its commitment to set aside forests to support the establishment of the rhino sanctuary in the Leuser Ecosystem. PT ABN is a repeat offender forest destroyer and has been the subject of multiple Rainforest Action Network reports and field investigations in the past that have included revelations of illegal clearing of critical habitat for endangered Sumatran elephants. This commitment comes after being excluded from the supply chains of major brands due to its failure to comply with their no deforestation commitments. The protection of remaining forests and support for the Rhino sanctuary are first steps in demonstrating the fulfilment of its promises to become a responsible palm oil producer.

PT Agra Bumi Niaga’s palm oil concession where forests have been set aside for the
rhino sanctuary.

These kinds of successes come as a direct result of years of exposing the threats to this special area and from the pressure placed on the biggest players in the palm oil industry by a chorus of voices calling for action to stop the destruction. With continued support we will maintain vigilant oversight to expose other palm oil companies destroying neighbouring forests and seek an end to deforestation for Conflict Palm Oil in the Leuser Ecosystem. If we are to save the last remaining populations of Sumatran rhinos, tigers, elephants, orangutans, we simply can’t afford to fail to protect this high conservation priority forest area.

All Sumatran rhino photos © Paul Hilton for RAN