The Roar Of The Rainforest

27th March 2009

On the Indonesian island of Sumatra there's a patch of lowland rainforest smaller than the area of Greater London. It's home to rare tigers, elephants and more species of bird than you'll find in the whole of the UK. Like much of the rainforest around the world it’s under threat – but it can be saved by our children.
The RSPB's new Wildlife Explorers campaign aims to fund conservation work in the Harapan Rainforest. Grace Fuller finds out more.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has always seemed like a very British organisation, drawing our attention to the decline in sparrows and starlings, for example, or the arrival of unexpected ornithological visitors from abroad. Along with its two hundred nature reserves (covering 130,000 hectares and home to 80 per cent of our rarest or most threatened bird species), Europe’s largest conservation charity also has its fingers in some important overseas pies too.

Last year the Indonesian Government granted the RSPB and two of its partners – BirdLife International and Burung Indonesia – a one hundred-year lease to look after an area of Sumatran rainforest, known as Harapan – which, appropriately, means ‘hope’.

Tropical rainforests are, of course, phenomenally rich in wildlife, providing habitation and sustenance for almost three-quarters of the world's known land-based plants and animals. Harapan is no exception. At roughly two-thirds the size of greater London, the area is home to at least 287 bird species – roughly the same number that breed in the whole of the UK – plus around 60 mammals, including the sun bear, the agile gibbon, the Sumatran otter, and of course, the Sumatran tiger, one of the world's rarest mammals, whose beautiful face graces our front cover this issue.

As important as the area is to biodiversity, it has shrunk dramatically over the past hundred years. In 1900 there were 16 million hectares of Sumatran lowland forest. Today there are less than 600,000 hectares. The removal, or destruction, of significant areas of forest cover is not only a disaster for wildlife, but also for the world's climate, which relies on these 'green lungs' to keep climate change under control.

Rainforests everywhere are disappearing at the same rate. People are cutting down trees to sell for timber, and clearing the land for farming, so it’s particularly significant that the RSPB and its partners have acquired the logging rights for Harapan – not, of course, for the purpose of logging, but for restoring the partly-degraded forest ecosystem to its former glory. This is a historic first, leading to real hope for the area, which represents one sixth of Sumatra's remaining lowland rainforests.

The RSPB is now working hard with its partners in Indonesia to protect Harapan. Eighty local people have been recruited as wardens, and are constantly patrolling the forest to guard the wildlife and the remaining trees. It seems an almost impossible task, as Andy Simpson, RSPB Head of Youth and Education, recognises: “Harapan Rainforest is a forest under threat, and if we don't act now, this rainforest and its amazing wildlife will be gone in a few years. We want to plant more trees and give the rainforest animals somewhere to live again.”

A long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis); Clare Kendall (rspb-images.com)

And this is where our children come in. The RSPB has 170,000 youth members, and the organisation is inviting them and children across the UK to raise money through a range of sponsored activities: cycling, hopping, running, singing and even sponsored silences. It’s an opportunity for youngsters, who are often impressively passionate about green issues, to help secure the future of the forest, and, by extension, the future of the planet. The money raised through the appeal will go towards buying trees grown by local villagers, helping both people and wildlife. Andy Simpson explains that it costs £20 to plant forty trees for rainforest animals, so every fund-raising effort can make a diffence. “Any money raised, from twenty pence to twenty pounds, will help save these amazing animals.”

Every young person who raises money to help the Wildlife Explorers rainforest animals appeal will receive a certificate and a set of special stickers as a thank you, and the knowledge that they have helped keep the roar of the rainforest alive…

Visit www.rspb.org.uk/youth to download a sponsor form, money box and other fun stuff. Alternatively write to: RSPB Wildlife Explorers, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL or email explorers@rspb.org.uk and the RSPB will send them to you.
Schools can also take part in the appeal - a special information and fundraising pack, designed especially for teachers and school children is available to download from the RSPB website.

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