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Gunung Leuser National Park is a national park covering 7,927 km² in northern Sumatramarker, Indonesiamarker, straddling the border of North Sumatramarker and Acehmarker provinces. The national park, named after 3,381 m height of Mount Leusermarker, protects a wide range of ecosystems. An orangutan sanctuary of Bukit Lawang is located inside the park. Together with Bukit Barisan Selatanmarker and Kerinci Seblatmarker national parks it forms a World Heritage Site, Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatramarker.



Gunung Leuser National Park is one of the two remaining habitat for Sumatran Orangutans (Pongo abelii). In 1971, Herman Rijksen established the Ketambe research station, a specially designated research area for the orangutan.

Ecological Services

Water SupplyAs mentioned, the first signs of reduced water replenishment have already been seen in and around the Leuser Ecosystem. Groundwater reservoirs are rapidly being exhausted and several rivers fall completely dry during part of the year. This has severe consequences for the local community. Both households and industries need to anticipate water shortages and higher costs for water.

FisheryCoastal fisheries and aquaculture in and around Leuser are very important. They provide a large portion of the animal protein in local people’s diets and generate ample foreign exchange. Their annual value currently exceeds US $171 million. If the Leuser Ecosystem is degraded, the decline in fresh water may have a detrimental impact on the functioning of the fishery sector.

Flood and Drought PreventionFlooding generally becomes more frequent and more destructive as a result of converting forests to other uses. Annual storm flows from a secondary forest are about threefold higher than from a similar-sized primary forest catchment area (Krameret al., 1995). In Aceh, local farmers have reported an increasing frequency of drought and damaging floods due to degradation of the watercatchment area. In May 1998, over 5,000 ha of intensive rice growing areas were taken out ofactive production. This was the result of the failure of 29 irrigation schemes due to a water shortage. Furthermore, floods in December 2000 cost the lives of at least 190 people and left 660, 000 people homeless. This cost the Aceh province almost US $90 million in losses (Jakarta Post, 2000a). Logging companies are slowly recognising their role in increased flooding and have made large donations to support the victims (Jakarta Post, 2000b).

Agriculture and PlantationsAgriculture is a major source of income for the local communities around Leuser. Large rubber and oil palm plantations in northern Sumatra play a major role in the national economy. Almost all remaining lowland forest has been given out officially for oil palm plantations. Yield decline has been recorded, however, in several Leuser regencies. This decline can be ascribed mainly to a deterioration of nutrients in the soil, along with soil erosion, drought and floods, and an increase in weeds. Clearly, these causes of decline are linked to the deforestation of Leuser. For example, the logging of water-catchment areas in Leuser is found to be responsible for taking 94% of failed irrigation areas out of production (BZD, 2000a).

Hydro-electricitySeveral regencies, such as Aceh Tenggara., have hydro-electricity plants that use water from Leuser.The plants operated in Aceh Tenggara are designed as small-scale economic activities. It appears that the operational conditions for the hydro-plants have worsened in recent years. Increased erosion of the waterways has forced the operators to remove excessive sediments from their turbines. This has led to frequent interruption of the power supply, higher operational costs and damage to the blades of the turbines. One plant closed down due to lack of water supply. Most of these disturbances are considered abnormal and may therefore be attributed to deforestation.

TourismLow-impact eco-tourism can be one of the most important sustainable, non-consumptive uses of Leuser, thereby giving local communities powerful incentives for conservation. Given the opportunities to view wildlife such as orang-utans, some experts view eco-tourism as a major potential source of revenue for communities living around Leuser (van Schaik, 1999).

BiodiversityPeople living in areas with a high biodiversity value tend to be relatively poor. Hence, the highest economic values for biodiversity are likely to be found within institutions and people in wealthy countries. Funds can come from several sources, including bio-prospecting, the GEF and grants from international NGOs (with donations possibly being proportional to biodiversity value) (Wind and Legg, 2000).

Carbon SequestrationAnthropogenic increases in the concentrations of greenhouse gases (such as CO2) in the atmosphere are widely believed to lead to climate change. Carbon sequestration by rainforest ecosystems therefore has an economic value, since the carbon fixed in the ecosystem reduces atmospheric concentrations.

Fire PreventionTo what extent does primary rainforest have a fire prevention function, and thus an additional value for preventing economic damage? There are various factors that make disturbed forest more prone to fires than primary forests. The likelihood that a forest will burn depends on the level of fire hazard and fire risk: (1) fire hazard is a measure of the amount, type, and dryness of potential fuel in the forest. Logged forest has relatively large amount of dry logging wasteslying around; (2) Fire risk is a measure of the probability that the fuel will ignite. In the presence of abandoned logging roads, which provide easy access to otherwise remote forests, the fire risk is greatly increased when settlers use fire for land clearance.

Non-timber forest productsNTFP can provide local communities with cash as long as exploitation does not surpass a threshold level.


In November 1995 the Langkat Regency government proposed a road to connect an old enclave, known as Sapo Padang, inside the park. In pursuit of business opportunities, 34 families who had been living in the enclave formed a cooperative in March 1996 and subsequently submitted a proposal to develop an oil palm plantation in August 1997. The oil palm proposal was accepted by the regency and the head of the park agreed to the road construction.

In accordance to the government's Proverty Alleviation Program, the oil palm project proceed with 42.5 km² of clearance area, but the project has made a major forest destruction of the park during its implementation. The local cooperation unit formed a partnership with PT Amal Tani which has strong relationship with the military command in the area. In January 1998, the Indonesian Forest Ministry granted a permission of 11 km road to be built. In June 1998, local office of the Forestry Service issued a decree stating that the Sapo Padang enclave was no longer legally a part of the national park; a controversial decision which consequently led to further forest destruction during the road construction and invited newcomers to slash and burn forest area to create local plantations a way deeper to the park.

In 1999, two university-based NGOs filed a legal suit to the Medan State Court, while a group of 61 lawyers brought a parallel case in the National Administrative Court. In July 1999 the National Administrative Court rejected the case, while the local NGOs won with 30 million rupiahs damage, but the legal process continues with appeals. The legal process did not stop the project that extensive logging and clearing, road-building and oil palm plantation continue operating inside the national park.


PT Amal Tani was owned by the immediate family of the commander of the Indonesian army's territorial military command of the area, KODAM I Bukit Barisan. The principal function of the military partnership is to organize "administrative details" when obtaining permissions to build the roads and other related projects. The director of PT Amal Tani became the executive of the local cooperation unit. The military's unit charitable foundation, Yayasan Kodam I Bukit Barisan, also involved in the project.


  1. World Database on Protected Areas: Entry of Gunung Leuser National Park

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