Global “Love the Leuser Ecosystem” Movement Brings Unprecedented Attention to Little Known Biodiversity Hotspot

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Global “Love the Leuser Ecosystem” Movement Brings Unprecedented Attention to Little Known Biodiversity Hotspot



Global “Love the Leuser Ecosystem” Movement Brings Unprecedented Attention to Little Known Biodiversity Hotspot

Regional and international NGOs, renowned graphic artist, wildlife photographer and actor Leonardo DiCaprio join forces to highlight the world-class values at stake in Indonesia

Jakarta/Banda Aceh/San Francisco/New York/London –

The Amazon, The Great Barrier Reef, The Grand Canyon . . .The Leuser Ecosystem? An unprecedented global movement including local and international organizations have combined forces with renowned graphic artist Asher Jay, celebrated outdoor photographer Paul Hilton and actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio to bring global attention to this little known but highly valuable region on the north tip of Sumatra.

Local grassroots groups, top wildlife biologists, forest conservationists, human rights and climate advocates say it is past time the Leuser Ecosystem gets the recognition it deserves as a globally important conservation priority. Their plan is to utilize art, photography, video and virtual reality through social and traditional media to elevate the profile of the unique landscape to the point that its fame affords a degree of protection from the industries seeking to exploit it for short term profit.

The 6.5 million acre Leuser Ecosystem is one of the largest intact expanses of rainforest left in Southeast Asia and is the last place on Earth where orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos still live together in the wild. Top wildlife scientists have warned that all four of these critically endangered, iconic species are at risk of extinction if the remaining forests of the Leuser Ecosystem are destroyed.

The Leuser Ecosystem is an ancient ecosystem where many millennia of unbroken evolution have produced one of the highest concentrations of biological diversity known to science. This rich flora and fauna includes at least 105 species of mammals, 386 species of birds, 95 species of reptiles and amphibians and 8,500 species of plants. Many of these, like the Thomas Leaf Monkey, also known as ‘punky monkey,’ are endemic to the region and can be found nowhere else.

The Leuser Ecosystem flanks two Sumatran provinces, Aceh and North Sumatra. Aceh just elected a former governor, Irwandi Yusef, who in his previous term had been dubbed the ‘green governor’ by some, so anticipation is high to see if the new political leadership will prioritize Leuser conservation to a higher degree than recent years.

About a third of the Leuser Ecosystem is designated as the Gunung Leuser National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, though much of the Leuser Ecosystem’s most biodiversity rich lowland rainforest and peatland areas lie outside of the park’s boundaries.

Millions of people in the region depend on the clean rivers of the Leuser Ecosystem for drinking water, flood protection and irrigation for agricultural livelihoods. A growing local conservation movement has grown to include robust political, scientific and legal citizens efforts across the region to advocate for its protection, alongside a green growth strategy for development.

The Leuser Ecosystem was featured as a critical region to protect due to its outsize influence on the global climate in Leonardo DiCaprio’s hit climate documentary Before the Flood, which has become the most widely watched documentary in history. The Leuser is home to three major peat swamps, which in addition to being dubbed the ‘orangutan capital of the world’ are among the most carbon-rich landscapes on earth. These flooded forests capture large quantities of carbon and store it safely underground and out of our atmosphere.

Unfortunately, while it is illegal to do so, these peatlands are regularly drained and burned to make way for industrial palm oil plantations. When this happens, immense amounts of carbon pollution are released into the air, with the latest episode of fires estimated to have caused upwards of 100,000 deaths across Southeast Asia. At the height of the 2015 fire season the human caused wildfires in Indonesia released more carbon pollution daily than the entire economy of the U.S. combined.


Contact: Blair Fitzgibbon (English)

Leoni Rahmawati (Indonesian)


Quotes from regional and international organizations working to protect the Leuser Ecosystem:


Wildlife Asia

“We are tragically on the cusp of losing Sumatran rhinos. The Leuser ecosystem is the last bastion of hope for this and so many other critically endangered species,” said Clare Campbell, Executive Director of Wildlife Asia. “We have one last shot to turn the tide for Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, tigers and elephants but in order to act with enough urgency we need the world to know Leuser and we need the world to love Leuser.”

Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA)

“The Leuser Ecosystem is a crucial life-giving resource for millions of people, many of whom have depended on its healthy forests and clean water as the basis of their livelihoods for generations,” said Farwiza Farhan, Chairperson of Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA). “Protecting the irreplaceable forests of the Leuser Ecosystem is a critical environmental priority, but it is also very much a human rights issue as well.”


Orangutan Information Center (OIC)

“The Leuser Ecosystem is the hope of the future for wildlife, people and the earth,” said Panut Hadisiswoyo. “Extinction is forever but ‘Critically Endangered’ means there is still time to save these magnificent animals if we act now to save the Leuser Ecosystem.”


Leuser Conservation Forum (FKL)

“For us people who were born and raised in Aceh the deepest value the Leuser Ecosystem is the water it provides,” said Rudi Putra of the Leuser Conservation Forum. “Millions of people depend on this water source and when the forest is broken, our communities begin to break down too. The Leuser Ecosystem is a beautiful and fascinating place. It has the power to bring tears to your eyes. Yet greed for fleeting wealth and status has driven many to exploit it. Now we face the sad reality that unless the forest destruction stops, our grandchildren may someday live without water. But we are not standing by to leave a legacy of disaster for the generations to come. We are fighting back. Working together I am sure we have the power to stem the destruction and protect the Leuser Ecosystem far into our shared future.”


Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) Aceh

“Leuser Ecosystem is rich of flora and fauna that does not exist in any other place in the world, it also serves as an area to protect water resources for people living in Aceh and North Sumatra,” said Muhammad Nur, from WALHI Aceh. “But several facts has shown that threats from land clearing activity for energy, palm oil plantations, roads construction, mining, and illegal logging, without paying any attention to the environmental laws have continued to destroy the balance of Leuser Ecosystem. Therefore, Aceh spatial plan need to provide special protection to Leuser Ecosystem. There is also an urgent need to have a common understanding between international, national and local governments about Leuser Ecosystem’s management, utilization, and control policy.”


Rainforest Action Network (RAN)

“The Leuser Ecosystem is a true global treasure and one of the world’s most important remaining intact rainforests, but few people outside of the region have heard of it yet,” said Lindsey Allen, Executive Director of Rainforest Action Network (RAN). “To survive, the Leuser needs to be elevated into the international spotlight by a global movement of people who recognize their role in protecting this extraordinary place from further destruction for international commodities like palm oil.”


Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP)

“People have to understand that Leuser’s forests are far more economically valuable left as they are, for the long term prosperity of its surrounding human population, than they could ever be if exploited for short term gain,” said Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. “The environmental damage we see every year in Indonesia’s forests is not only costly in terms of biodiversity losses, it’s extremely costly economically too. Flash floods destroy entire towns and kill people. Haze from fires kills people and causes widespread health issues. It also blocks out the sun, interfering with agriculture, and disrupts business through cancelled flights and a host of other means.”


Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS)

“It’s simple: protecting Leuser means that orangutans, and so many other species, can survive and thrive in the wild. With your support, we are backing the local people of Sumatra in their fight against the destruction of Leuser – a battle that can, and must, be won,” said Helen Buckland, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society.



“The Leuser Ecosystem has everything, everything but protection.” said Nicole Rycroft, Executive Director of Canopy. “Canopy’s market partners including many of the world’s largest fashion brands, printers and publishers are working to ensure that these magical rainforests continue to grace our planet.”


Asher Jay (National Geographic Explorer, Creative Conservationist)

“There are very few places left on this planet where our evolutionary and biological history has been kept intact by a wild that has seen the rise and fall of entire civilizations. Where our true lineage is archived for future generations to connect to. Landscapes that predate our existence on this planet, where the soil is rich with stories, and ancient trees serve as the gatekeepers of time. The Leuser Ecosystem is one such verdant Eden, and if it isn’t protected, we stand to lose not just an irreplaceable habitat for Sumatran tigers, elephants, orangutans and rhinos, we stand to lose volumes of our origin story.” – Asher Jay, National Geographic Explorer, Creative Conservationist.


SumOfUs (SOU)

“With the Leuser Ecosystem, corporations have a unique opportunity to demonstrate their good faith and walk the walk,” said Fatah Sadaoui, Senior Campaigner at SumOfUs. “After a decade of sustainable palm oil promises, commitments, and policies, consumer goods companies such as PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestle have the responsibility to protect one of the planet’s most precious and biodiverse ecosystems. The clock is ticking and consumers all over the world are watching. If corporations don’t take immediate action to ensure the preservation of the Leuser Ecosystem, there’s no going back.”


You can donate to Wildlife Asia’s appeal to protect the Leuser ecosystem here








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