A New Oak Tree Species Could Save Sumatra’s Orangutans

In the Batang Toru forest in Northern Sumatra, a new oak tree species has been shown to be closely tied to the survival of the critically endangered Tapanuli Orangutan. 
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the Batang Toru forest in Northern Sumatra, a new oak tree species has been shown to be closely tied to the survival of the critically endangered Tapanuli Orangutan. Source: Unsplash

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A New Oak Tree Species Could Save Sumatra’s Orangutans

In the Batang Toru forest in Northern Sumatra, a new oak tree species has been shown to be closely tied to the survival of the critically endangered Tapanuli Orangutan. 

Biodiversity Defines Us 

Biodiversity is one of the key distinguishing features of our planet. The fact that Earth is home not only to life at all but also that there are so many different kinds of life on Earth makes it utterly unique in the universe, as far as we can prove. 

Yet, the very foundation on which our global civilization sits is built upon the destruction and exploitation of our natural world. This hypocrisy that we live in is more apparent in some areas than others. 

In the Western world, by and large, we experience the luxuries and benefits that this exploitation has created. In places like Indonesia, they are ground zero to the destructive reality necessary for modern luxuries to exist. 

Specifically, Sumatra exists at the intersection between the destructive incentives of capital and the vast biodiversity this world can host. In Sumatra, urgent action needs to be taken to halt the destruction of the Batang Toru Forest as a new oak tree species that could help in halting the devastation of the Tapanuli Orangutan has recently been discovered. 

See also: Biruté Mary Galdikas Knows Orangutans.

How Did It Get To This?

The story of how Sumatra’s forests and creatures came to be thrown into danger is a story that everyone around the world is familiar with. In the early 16th century, Europeans began exploring outside their continent and creating colonies worldwide. These colonies were for the expressed purpose of extracting resources from the land they conquered, often utilizing the indigenous peoples as indentured labor in their efforts. 

However, an important aspect of colonization that is often overlooked in the Western world is that while the names and organizations in charge of that exploitative model have changed, the fundamental system of extraction and exploitation has remained the same. The former Dutch plantation owners were removed from power only for new owners to take their place. 

These new owners are the modern palm oil companies in Indonesia, who recklessly and without discernment destroy vast amounts of habitat and wildlife to expand their plantations and increase profits. This has resulted in a sharp increase in fires, both manmade and natural, throughout Sumatra as they clear land for palm oil production. 

However, as this problem worsens, impacting neighboring countries, increased scrutiny has been placed upon the Indonesian government to reign in the destruction and protect the forests from the damage of corporate incentives. This concern has been highlighted by the fact that Sumatra is one of the last refuges for many critically endangered species, and new discoveries are seemingly made daily. 

One of these new discoveries is that of Lithocarpus Tapanuliensis, a rare variety of new oak tree whose acorns are an important food source for the world’s most endangered great ape, the Tapanuli Orangutan. Try Surya Harapan, who discovered this new oak tree in February 2023, said, “The Batang Toru ecosystem suffers from habitat fragmentation and habitat loss due to large-scale infrastructure projects, such as mining, agroforestry plantations, and hydropower in the surrounding forest.” 

So What Can Be Done?

In other countries, creating wildlife refuges and government-protected wild spaces has effectively curbed damaging developments in the area. For example, off the coast of the Galapagos Islands, a marine sanctuary has been established, preventing commercial fishing vessels from operating in that area. This has resulted in a renewal of natural life in the marine reserve, even more than what was expected from the action. 

The Indonesian government could enact similar programs to curb the destruction of their environment. What is certain, though, for Indonesians and for all of us is that we all rely on a healthy and functioning environment to thrive. We may not all find a new oak tree species and taking measures to protect our world might reduce profits in the short term, but it will be necessary in the long run for us to survive, let alone thrive. 

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