One Of The Wildest Places In Indonesia
There’s just one place left on earth where tigers, elephants, orangutans, and rhinos live together in the wild—the Leuser Ecosystem World Heritage Site on the island of Sumatra. Clouded leopards, pangolins, macaques, hornbills, sun bears, and unique butterflies also call the region home.
The greater Leuser Ecosystem spans 2.6 million hectares (6 million acres), almost three times the size of Yellowstone National Park. It includes lowland and highland rainforests, nine rivers, three lakes, and more than 185,000 hectares of carbon-rich peat. It’s home to one of the last remaining intact rainforests in all of Indonesia–a crucial source of clean drinking water and agricultural livelihoods for more than four million people. Gunung Leuser is named after one of the mountains, which rises prominently in the northwest region of the park.
There are less than 80 wild Sumatran rhinos in the world. Most of them live in the Leuser region. At most, there are 400 Sumatran tigers alive in the wild. More than 100 live in Leuser. About 85 percent of the world’s critically endangered Sumatran orangutans call this forest home. There are almost 4,000 species of plants residing in Southeast Asia’s largest expanse of rainforest. It hosts 380 species of birds, 194 reptiles and amphibians and nearly 130 species of mammals.
As Sumatra’s forests are destroyed, it becomes more likely that Sumatran orangutans will become the first great ape to go extinct.
It was designated a national park in 1980, one of the first five in the country. The park represents the largest forest block in northern Sumatra. This rainforest is a treasure of biodiversity, but it’s highly endangered. The threats have accelerated since the end of the civil war in northern Sumatra. Post-war stability has encouraged the rapid invasion of commercial interests. Elephants and tigers are being slaughtered for their skins and tusks. It’s insane. Between 1985 and 2009, half of Sumatra’s forests were destroyed. The decimation continues today. Despite its protected status, Leuser has lost 20 percent of its lowland forests to illegal commercial activities in the past five years. At that rate, the forest will be gone in 20 years.
Illegal palm oil plantations are the greatest threat to this unique ecosystem. As global demand for palm oil rises, oil palm growers convert more jungle into plantations, which are not friends of biodiversity. This critical ecosystem has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Danger. In addition to palm oil, it faces accelerating threats from logging, mining, and new roads.
Due to the wide range of biodiversity in Gunung Leuser National Park (GLNP) and considering its importance to the world, GLNP is included in Biosphere Reserve and Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra by UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area also includes Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve.
There is untapped tourism potential for Leuser. It’s only two hours from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and three hours from Hong Kong. More than 160 kilometers of coastline and four diverse ecosystems provide an authentic wilderness experience with fishing, boating, trekking, wildlife viewing, rafting, birding and mountain lodges.
As visitors discover, the trails in the Gunung Leuser National Park are unmarked with steep and slippery slopes, which is why venturing long distances without a guide is against the park’s policies. There is an entrance fee (around US $20), which is included in the price of the guided trip. Visitors can enter the park for a day or much longer if you seek a wilder experience with better chances of spotting wildlife. Guides provide everything. Prices for guided trips start around US $40 per person per day.
Bukit Lawang is the most popular tourist village. It offers easy access to the east side of the national park. It was the location of the Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, which functioned as a rescue and rehabilitation facility until it closed in 2016. They reintroduced dozens of orangutans into the rainforest close to Bukit Lawang, many still call the area home, which offers common orangutan sightings for visitors today.
Gunung Leuser straddles two provinces—Aceh and North Sumatra. The closest major airport is located in Medan. The best way to access the park is from Ketambe.