Essay Topic : Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia

Essay Topic : Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia

Thompson, I. and Christophersen, T., eds. (2008).

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Bukit Lawang is an active ecotourism village in North Sumatra, Indonesia located west of Medan city. Bukit Lawang village hosts an orangutan rehabilitation center. The center was created in 1973 with support from WWF and Indonesia’s Nature Conservation Service. The aim was to rehabilitate orangutans that had been captured and sold as pets and to raise orphaned baby orangutans for eventual release back into the forest ecosystem. The rehabilitation center became a major tourism attraction starting 1974. In 1976, about 4,000 tourists visited the center, which increased to 11,325 by 1989, and over 18,000 visitors by 1992. The number since then has rapidly increased. By 1997, over 8,000 visitors were visiting the rehabilitation centre on a single weekend.

In initially there was an adequate buffer between the rehabilitation center and Bukit Lawang village as they were separated by dense forest. The rapid increase in tourist numbers, however, resulted in a proliferation of accommodation and restaurant developments that reduced the size of the buffer forest. The use of local construction material from river beds and forests further diminished the quality and value of the ecosystem as a tourism site.

The rapid increase in ecotourism resulted in noise, litter and an increased risk of epidemic diseases effecting the orangutan population. Additionally, rehabilitated apes failed to self-support in the rainforest due to dependence upon human feeding and being over-handled by tourists. As a result of these developments, the Ministry of Forestry decreed the orangutan center to close down as a rehabilitation center. It remains a tourist attraction.

The rapid increase of ecotourism also contributed to biodiversity damage resulting from the overuse of trails as well as reduced the habitat area for animal species. Similarly, the sale of forest plants and animals to tourists and to local markets threatens the integrity of the local ecosystem. Orangutans wandering outside the forest ecosystem are still targeted for sale in nearby communities and the city of Medan.

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Bukit Lawang is a case where a conservation project became an ‘ecotourism’ attraction and eventually led to the unraveling of the surrounding environment and the effectiveness of the conservation project’s mission – to rehabilitate orangutans. Utilizing the concepts, tools and management strategies covered in readings and discussed in class, in essay format, briefly explain what you think the key issues were that led to the poor environmental performance of Bukit Lawang’s tourism industry? Incorporating concepts, theory and management tools discussed in class and in readings, outline in detail a range of measures that could be taken to ensure better results in the future?

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