Forests of Hope site - Harapan Rainforest, Indonesia

Community Nursery. Photo by Aulia Erlangga, Burung Indonesia.
Community Nursery. Photo by Aulia Erlangga, Burung Indonesia.


Site name: Harapan Rainforest

Country: Indonesia (Sumatra)

Location: Jambi and South Sumatra Provinces

IBAs: ID026, 027

Site area: 98,555 ha

Partner: Burung Indonesia (national partner); project implemented by consortium of Burung Indonesia, RSPB (BirdLife in UK) and the BirdLife International secretariat.


Values of the site

Indonesia hosts some of the most extensive and biologically diverse tropical forests in the world. The lowland rainforests of Sumatra are particularly important, rivalling the Amazon in terms of species richness. Harapan Rainforest contains a mixture of intact or primary forest and secondary forest that has been altered by logged or other processes.

In every animal group surveyed at Harapan Rainforest, great diversity has been found, including threatened species. To date, 305 bird species have been recorded at Harapan, including nine globally threatened species: the Endangered Storm’s Stork Ciconia stormi and eight Vulnerable species. In addition, a remarkable 66 Near Threatened bird species have been recorded: this reflects the recent recognition that, with the ongoing rate of destruction of Sundaic lowland rainforest, almost any species restricted to this habitat, once so abundant, is now at some risk.

Harapan is one of the increasingly rare Asian rainforest sites to hold a truly diverse large mammal fauna. To date, 54 mammal species have been recorded including a remarkable five primate and seven cat species, the latter including up to 20 Sumatran Tigers Panthera tigris sumatrae, a subspecies with a population of only a few hundred.

A range of other spectacular large mammals, includes two that are Critically Endangered (Asian Elephant Elephas maximus and Sumatran Tiger), six Endangered (Asiatic Wild Dog Cuon alpinus, Sunda Pangolin Manis javanica, Mitred Leaf Monkey Presbytis melalophos, Agile Gibbon Hylobates agilis, Siamang Symphalangus syndactylus and Malayan Tapir Tapirus indicus), ten Vulnerable species and five  Near Threatened.

Preliminary botanical studies have revealed four plant species that are Critically Endangered (the dipterocarp trees Hopea mengerawan, Hopea sangal and Shorea acuminata, and the smaller Syzygium ampliflorum), two Endangered and six Vulnerable. The list continues to grow as more studies are carried out: recent surveys suggest that over 600 species of trees are present, and when shrubs and herbs have been surveyed, the total will surely be much higher.

The forest is integral to the lives of indigenous communities, in particular the Batin Sembilan people of central Sumatra. These people traditionally follow a semi-nomadic lifestyle in the island’s forests, but very few are able to continue this because of the pressure of deforestation and development. Several Batin Sembilan family groups live within Harapan Rainforest.  The initiative to conserve the forest provides hope that they can maintain aspects of their forest-dependent lifestyles, while enhancing their livelihoods and supporting their development needs (for example healthcare and schooling), as is their stated wish. 

Degraded land. Photo by Aulia Erlangga, Burung Indonesia.



Indonesia’s forests have shrunk dramatically in the past few decades. They have been cut for timber and to clear land for agriculture and other development. Forest loss often begins with commercial hardwood extraction (logging). With roads in place, illegal loggers follow, and/or companies clear the remaining trees for pulp fibre. Once forests have been cleared, companies convert them to palm oil or commercial pulpwood plantations.

Lowland forest areas have disappeared particularly fast because they are most accessible. Sumatra typifies this process: in 1900, it held 160,000 km2 of lowland forest but today that figure has dwindled to a at most 5,000 km2. Sumatran lowland forests are now regarded as among the most threatened forests in the world; 70% of Indonesia’s oil palm plantations are located in Sumatra.

Key threats at Harapan Rainforest thus include:

  •          Illegal encroachment
  •          Illegal logging
  •          Forest fires
  •          Mining and plantation development in surrounding areas


Historical conservation approach

Some of Sumatra’s forests have been set aside for biodiversity conservation, designated as such by the Government of Indonesia for the conservation of nature and genetic resources, but this concerns mainly montane and hill forest; only two National Parks cover substantial areas of lowland forest in Sumatra. However, Protected Area management effectiveness has been uneven: satellite analysis shows that even in protected areas, 10% of the land is without forest cover because of encroachment and illegal logging. Prospects for greater protection of lowland forest through traditional conservation approaches are not strong, and without the intervention of BirdLife, Harapan Rainforest was doomed to certain and imminent destruction through legal and illegal logging and conversion to palm oil and timber plantations.

Rana siberu, Harapan Rainforest


New conservation approach

Harapan means ‘hope’ in the Indonesian language. As the first Forest of Hope site, Harapan Rainforest is a highly significant conservation initiative that demonstrates a new approach to tropical forest conservation in Indonesia and globally.

Burung Indonesia, with the support of the BirdLife Partnership, persuaded the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry to allow private organisations to manage logging concessions in the interests of forest ecosystem restoration. In 2004, the Ministry passed a decree enabling 'production forest' designated for logging to be restored and managed for conservation. This has now been converted into a Government Regulation signed by the President of Indonesia.

With this important new policy agreed, a consortium of Burung Indonesia (BirdLife in Indonesia), the RSPB (BirdLife in UK) and BirdLife International acquired the rights to manage Harapan Rainforest as a model for forest restoration, wildlife conservation and sustainable local development. The area now held under licence by the consortium is just under 1,000 km2 for a period of nearly 100 years.

Harapan Rainforest is the first restoration forest of its kind in Indonesia. The legal framework BirdLife helped to create now makes it possible for other organisations to obtain similar rights to manage logging for the purposes of forest restoration.

Under the Forest ecosystem restoration regulation the Ministry of Forestry has made clear its desire to see large areas of of forest being managed under ecosystem restoration license concessions. By the end of 2012, other organisations had applied for ecosystem restoration concession licences covering over 40,000 km2; it cannot be assumed that all this area will be licensed for restoration, but the volume of application clearly shows the interest in the concept, and 3 such licences in addition to the two covering Harapan have been granted.

The Harapan Rainforest initiative is funded by a range of agencies including the German Ministry of Environment’s International Climate Initiative (through KfW Entwicklungsbank), the Global Conservation Fund of Conservation International, the European Union, DANIDA, BirdLife Partner NGOs in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Singapore and the Netherlands, various other foundations and agencies and thousands of individual donors.

This ambitious and groundbreaking initiative is of enormous interest and relevance to decision-makers, conservation managers and forest-dependent communities throughout Indonesia and the world. It gives real hope for conservation and large-scale restoration of forests not just at one site, but throughout Indonesia and the tropics: it is the original Forest of Hope.

For more information about this site, please contact   

Read more about Forests of Hope Programme