Harapan Rainforest covers 98,554 ha of dry lowland forest and comprises two former logging concessions of approximately equal size. The entire site has undergone some degree of logging in the past resulting in three broad forest habitats: ‘High secondary forest', 'Medium secondary forest' and 'Low secondary forest'. Forty percent of the site is ‘High secondary forest', 25% is 'Medium secondary forest' and 25% is 'Low secondary forest'. The remaining 10% comprises scrub and open ground.

Harapan Rainforest is home to an impressive array of mammals, including the Sumatran tiger, Asian elephant, Malayan sun bear, Mitred langur, Asian tapir, Siamang, Clouded leopard, Agile gibbon, Slow loris and Dhole (Asiatic wild dog), all of which are currently threatened with extinction. Harapan Rainforest is also home to nearly 300 species of lowland birds, including eight globally threatened species and 69 near-threatened species. Despite previous habitat disturbance, a remarkable abundance of species still remain.

Harapan Rainforest is also home to a group of indigenous people known as the Bathin Sembilan. Many of them still follow a semi-nomadic lifestyle, harvesting non-timber products from the forest. Very few native people are still able to follow this traditional lifestyle due to the pressure of deforestation and development all around them. There are eight indigenous family groups (guguk) living within Harapan Rainforest. This initiative provides hope that they will be able to preserve the aspects of their traditional lifestyles that they wish to.

Forest Protection

One of the most important parts of the forest restoration process is to protect the forest area from any further damage. This is not an easy task when you are trying to protect an area of 1000km2, (two thirds the size of Greater London or one and half times the size of Singapore). We have 72 forest patrol staff employed by Harapan Rainforest, the majority of these are indigenous people or from local communities. Some previously hunted in this forest. These are often the people with the best knowledge of the forest area and they are invaluable in the work to protect it.

For monitoring activities, the patrol staff are split into eight teams. Of these, one team will be undergoing training and capacity building, the other eight teams are stationed in different parts of the forest for three weeks at a time. During this period they are constantly monitoring for any signs of illegal activity (illegal logging, encroachment, poaching), for possible fire outbreaks and also recording any important wildlife sightings

In order to be effective, patrol teams need to be able to handle a variety of situations as they arise. These range from wildlife sightings and community awareness, to incidents of illegal logging and dealing with forest fires. Building such skills has required a large investment from Harapan Rainforest but has also shown an extra ordinary commitment and enthusiasm from the team members, the majority of which are from the local communities. As well as developing physical fitness, training has included map reading and use of GIS, first aid skills, forest law and community policing and developing off-road motorcycle skills. More recently selected patrols have received rope climbing and species identification training, related to biodiversity monitoring.

Fire fighting training Fire is an ever present hazard. Our patrols work actively to reduce the risk of fires occurring but inevitably are faced with situations where they must be extinguished. To improve our ability to respond rapidly and effectively forty two forest patrol staff have recently received a second round of training in fire fighting techniques. From these participants, two rapid response teams have been selected to go through a third round of more advanced training, making use of recently acquired protective clothing and fire fighting equipment.

In order to identify priority areas for fire prevention, our GIS officer uses the Forest Information Resources Management System (FIRMS), which provides coordinates of hotspots in Harapan Rainforest that may relate to fires. This information is then given to the forest patrol so these areas can be checked and monitored.

In the 19 months that the forest patrol teams have been carrying out this work, the amount of illegal activity has significantly decreased within Harapan Rainforest and they have successfully put out 82 forest fires.

Research and Conservation

Harapan Rainforest has an active research and conservation program to support the management objectives of Harapan Rainforest in the restoration, rehabilitation and conservation of this forest. Currently, the research programme is focusing on biodiversity surveys and training forest patrol staff. The UK government's Darwin Initiative has provided specific funds which are being used to undertake biodiversity baseline surveys of a wide range of taxa across the variety of habitats in the forest and to establish a monitoring system for the conservation of this threatened habitat. In time, this programme will be sustained and developed in the form of a permanent research and training centre that will be of benefit to researchers throughout the region. This centre will hold museum collections of invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians recorded at Harapan Rainforest, while an on-site herbarium has already been established.

Survey work has so far focused on hornbills and mammals. Hornbills, of which all nine Sumatran species are found in Harapan Rainforest, are surveyed along transects walked by either the research team or forest patrol teams. Local hornbill populations are being supported by a nest-box scheme, previously funded by The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and currently supported by the Seaworld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Surveys of all bird species will begin later in 2009 and it is likely this work will add to the 295 species already recorded in Harapan Rainforest. Mammal surveys, using camera traps and occupancy transects, are being carried out to continue the inventory of this group, assess species presence-absence across the site and begin relating these data to species abundance. So far 54 mammal species have been recorded in Harapan Rainforest. This number largely excludes bats and rodents for which future surveys are planned. A specific camera trap study is being conducted on Malayan Sun Bear to assess their abundance and distribution across the site and is being funded by the Bear Conservation Fund of the International Association for Bear Research and Management.

Climbing trainingAn important aspect of this programme is to provide training to project staff, and other regional participants, in a range of survey and monitoring skills to ensure local sustainability. Forest patrol staff are seconded on rotation to the research and conservation team for short periods to train them in aspects of field research. A number of patrol staff have so far received training in plant collecting and herbarium techniques led by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (UK) and Bogor Herbarium (Indonesia), mammal survey methods assisted by the World Conservation Society-Indonesia, hornbill surveys, data entry, map reading and using global positioning systems (GPS), and tree climbing with IndoRope. A permanent research team including forest patrol staff has now been established.

Source: harapanrainforest.org