Championing Community-Driven Conservation in Southeast Asia and Africa

July 14, 2022

The rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra provide the last natural refuge on Earth for critically endangered orangutans and an important habitat for several endangered gibbon species. But these vital landscapes face unprecedented threats of destruction driven by industrial agriculture and infrastructure development.

Some of the latest grantee partners in Arcus’ Great Apes & Gibbons Program are empowering human communities in these landscapes to stand up for the forest ecosystems and endangered species they live alongside. Other partners are working to ensure high-quality care for apes in captivity across and beyond their natural ranges.

Preserving apes and habitats across Southeast Asia
In Indonesian Borneo’s Central Kalimantan province, the Sebangau and Rungan landscapes host approximately 16,000 Bornean orangutans and nearly 100,000 agile gibbons—the largest populations in the region. A grant to Borneo Nature Foundation supports efforts to protect, restore, and sustainably manage this key habitat, with a focus on partnering with provincial government officials to reduce habitat destruction caused by agricultural activities.

In nearby West Kalimantan province, Gunung Palung National Park protects as much as 10 percent of remaining wild Bornean orangutans. However, local communities have historically lacked the legal and technical means to manage this highly biodiverse landscape. Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program is implementing a holistic approach to conserving the ecosystem. Activities include helping local communities secure their land rights via establishment of community forests, build capacity to manage forests in a way that protects orangutans, and adopt organic farming practices and other sustainable livelihoods; as well as investing in law enforcement.

Across the Karimata Strait in Sumatra lies the vast Leuser Ecosystem, home to about 85 percent of remaining Sumatran orangutans, where ever-increasing global demand for textiles and paper products is driving rapid destruction. Funding to Canopy Planet supports ongoing efforts to encourage major corporations to eliminate destructive products and practices from their fashion and packaging supply chains while joining the call for broader policy changes to preserve Leuser.

Also in Sumatra, Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI – Indonesian Forum for the Environment) is scaling up community movement and government commitment to protect both the Leuser and Batang Toru Ecosystems. In Batang Toru, the construction of a hydroelectric plant poses dire threats to the Tapanuli orangutan, considered one of the most endangered great apes on Earth since its recognition as a distinct species in 2017.

Throughout these and other Southeast Asia rainforest landscapes, progress has been made in recent decades to stem the tide of deforestation. Yet the habitats most crucial to ape survival continue to bear the brunt of existing threats. A grant to Mighty Earth supports a multi-pronged effort to protect these habitats from further destruction by ensuring producers of paper, palm oil, and other rainforest-derived products are adhering to forest protection agreements and collaborating with local communities and organizations to advocate for conservation.

Protecting African great apes through research and community land management
Grantee partners working in Africa are also championing conservation driven by local communities to protect the great apes with whom they coexist.

In Liberia, Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development received support for community conservation of key western chimpanzee habitats. In partnership with Forest Peoples Programme, SESDev is working to shift the conservation model in Liberia toward acknowledgment that the country’s customary landowners are the best stewards of its remaining forests.

Strong Roots is supporting local communities and Indigenous Peoples in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to establish, manage, protect, and monitor community forests. This is part of an approach to help communities secure the long-term protection of their traditional lands and conserve the endangered gorillas and chimpanzees who call these forests home.

Also in the DRC, the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research at University of Leipzig is using funding for research on bonobo population size and distribution, establishing research sites across bonobo habitats to collect the most up-to-date data on the endangered species, about which we know relatively little compared to other great apes.

Also receiving grants this funding cycle were:

  • ShareAction for a two-year campaign to educate financial institutions and investors about their impact on biodiversity, including great apes and small apes, and to encourage them to bolster their commitments to conservation.
  • Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida, to continue growing and adapting to the needs of its now 70+ resident orangutans and chimpanzees, who require high-quality lifetime care after being rescued or retired from exploitative situations like the entertainment industry, the pet trade, unaccredited roadside zoos, tourist attractions, and research facilities.
  • Yayasan Orangutan Sumatra Lestari (Orangutan Information Centre) to support the medical care, nutritional needs, and (where appropriate) reintroduction of siamangs, agile gibbons, and lar gibbons under the care of its Gibbon Rehabilitation Center in North Sumatra.

Learn about all Arcus grants awarded since 2007.