Northern Sumatra, Indonesia sustains one of Earth's most biologically important regions. Known as the Leuser Ecosystem, it is the last place on the planet where tigers, rhinos, elephants, and orangutans still co-exist.
And yet illegal poachers are already taking a harsh toll on the wildlife of northern Sumatra. What will happen if the government opens up the region's forest with over 400 kilometers of new roads, as proposed by its so-called "Aceh Spatial Plan"?
Toll on Tigers
Last week authorities in northern Sumatra announced the arrest of poachers trying to sell tiger skins, bones, and teeth. One of the poachers had previously been arrested for selling poached tiger pelts, and received a prison sentence of just 12 months.
Similar busts involving poached tigers were made by local authorities in August and again September of last year.
The situation has been described as a "wildlife emergency" by Irma Hermawati, of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Almost every week we catch another illegal wildlife trader.”
Only a few hundred Sumatran tigers are estimated to survive in the wild.
What has scientists and conservationists especially on edge are the plans by the local Aceh government to open up some of the most critical forests in the region with a vast network of new roads -- a scheme that would surely escalate poaching as well as legal and illegal logging and forest destruction.
The 400-kilometer road network is being pushed hard by the Aceh government -- but is being heatedly opposed by local and international wildlife groups as well as key elements of the Indonesian Federal Government.
Roads to ruin
The take-home message is simple. In order to survive, imperiled wildlife need a few places on Earth that are not easily accessible to humans.
The Leuser Ecosystem -- whose fate is currently poised on the edge of a knife -- is a classic example of one such environment.
If the Leuser Ecosystem is cut asunder by a vast network of new roads, the current loss of wildlife -- while appalling -- will be trivial compared to the carnage that would surely follow.