Into the Wilderness 

22 Sep 2023 -

Into the wilderness 

The excitement grows as the motorbikes gather in the warmth of the early morning sun. The six men, who make up the newly formed Tanjung Dalam Village Patrol Team, prepare to make the one-hour ride from the village to begin their vital work. 

A treacherous journey lies ahead, navigating rough country paths and rocky drops. A sudden downpour adds to the difficulty, making the heavily-laden bikes slip and slide across the red Sumatran mud. 

The remoteness of this place has, until recent years, helped limit the external pressures on the landscape. But as the local population has grown, swelled by new arrivals from across Indonesia, the need for land to cultivate has pushed farmers further and further from the village. The elders talk of how in their childhood, elephants, rhino and tigers would be seen regularly on the outskirts of the village. But that was long ago. 

As the bikes wind their way upward, the patrol passes through the mosaic of pineapple, coffee and rubber plantations that now criss-cross the land. At the top of the ridge, the track narrows until it disappears completely.  The neatly-lined crops give way to a tangle of trees and plants; the patrol have finally reached their goal – the village forest. 

Forest guardians  

Sumatra was once covered in dense tropical forest, with one of the highest rates of biodiversity on the planet. Today, all that remains, in areas such as Jambi Province, are pockets of forest in amongst the cultivation and resource extraction. 

These remaining tracts of forest are vital, not only for biodiversity, but also for the forest-dependent communities that live alongside them. The generational knowledge that has been passed down through these communities is often underestimated. With those that live closest to the forest best placed to protect what remains. 

In recognition of the unique relationship that forest frontier communities have with these landscapes, the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry has awarded several villages exclusive access to their local forest. The areas defined by these permits are known as 'Village Forests’ and issued under the Government’s Social Forestry management scheme. 

In this region, four villages are working with a Sumatran-based NGO, Alam Hijau (AHI), to conserve around 10,000 hectares of forest with support from the Rimba Collective.  

These forests are a vital resource for the villagers, who are permitted to conduct limited economic activities within the forest boundaries, as well as maintaining an important cultural focal point for the community and their traditional beliefs. 

The village forests of Lubuk Birah, Lubuk Beringin, Birun and Tanjung Dalam also form a buffer zone for the Kerinci Seblat National Park, one of the few remaining strongholds of the critically-endangered Sumatran tiger.  

A message from the ancestors 

Bakkarudin, the leader of the Patrol Team, says: ‘We’ve always perceived tigers as the reincarnation of our ancestors. Because we see tigers as our ancestors, we are not afraid of them. 

This deep reverence for the tiger amongst the local people has helped to create a form of cultural conservations for these apex predators. It has also encouraged the local communities to actively protect tigers against poaching and habitat loss. 

If a tiger appears, it is simply our ancestors informing us of a potential disaster,’ continues Bakkarudin, ‘sometimes they appear in the form of a dream to tell us not to ruin the forest. 

Protecting the future 

Standing on the edge of the village forest, buoyed by the sacredness of the landscape in front of them, the patrol team gather their belongings for the journey ahead. With their newly-purchased GPS tracker and walkie-talkies in hand, they begin a patrol that can keep them in the forest for a whole week. They trek throughout the conservation area, observing the forest health and taking notes on the biodiversity they see. 

The team is at ease in this environment; their well-trained eyes scan the forest for signs of illegal logging, gold mining or poaching. They check that the designated borders of the village forest are being maintained, with no agricultural encroachment taking place. The desire to keep the forest healthy is personal for everyone in the team, as they know that the forest is essential to the success of their village and will one day be passed on to their children. 

The patrol teams are the first step in a long-term realignment of how the local forests are managed. As with the natural processes of the forest, real change takes place over decades rather than years. That is why the Rimba Collective provides conservation funding for 25 years, allowing time for this real change to happen. Supporting the villagers, creating a future for their children, and assuring that the ancestors still have a place to roam for generations to come. 

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