Spent the day watching kids explore a rainforest where orangutans live — saw plenty of nests but no red apes (although 36 kids make a lot of noise even trying to be quiet.) This field trip was organized by Yayasan IR orangutan center (International Animal Rescue) as part of their ongoing education outreach to schools and communities, in partnership with PK KAL oil palm plantation education staff.
It was my first chance to wander around inside a High Conservation Value (HCV) area, and for many of these kids it was as well. HCVs come with a mixed review. They were initiated by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and adopted by RSPO as part of the requirements for an oil palm plantation being an accredited “sustainable” plantation. At first glance it sounds like a good idea, in practice it falls short of the mark. And for orangutans, and other large mammals like tigers and elephants, HCVs are generally too little space, too late after everything else has been cleared. The other issue is they often are patches of forest that sit in isolation. So even if the HCV has orangutans, where are the orangutans to go if they over-populate or over-eat their limited forest?
Conservationists are pushing for a grander landscape approach to utilizing HCVs on connecting plantations, and even leaving forest corridors between HCVs (or in deforested areas replanting native tree species to create corridors.) The first problem? Getting oil palm plantations to work together, especially to save orangutans, is like convincing little boys to share the baseball with little girls, not happening without a fuss.
What HCVs do have is native biodiversity—plants, insects, reptiles, birds—all can survive is these reduced spaces. Given the right attitude by the oil palm company, in this case PT KAL, their HCVs can offer valuable environmental learning opportunities for neighboring schools.
One of the young girls from Matan Hilir Utara 1 junior high is exploring the biodiversity, a Nepenthes pitcher plant, in PT KAL's High Conservation Value area.