TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Located at the foot of Mount Leuser, Tangkahan was previously known as the epicenter of illegal logging. Hundreds of trees were cut down every day. “Ironwoods, sandalwoods, we cut every tree,” said a local Juan Ika Sitepu (40).
Ika admitted that he used to be an illegal logger. “We do everything for a living. Our father, grandfathers, uncles were all illegal loggers. Some of them had been arrested by the police and detained,” he said.
Fortunately, that occurred two decades ago. At present, the village is one of hidden paradise in North Sumatra. No more illegal logging. No more logs of woods along Batang Serangan River. The rainforest ecosystem restored, and now Tangkahan is renowned as elephant-centered ecotourism.
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Locals were awakened by the flash flood in Bukit Lawang in 2003 that killing at least 200 people and destroyed hundreds of residencies. “We held a meeting with the operator of Mount Leuser National Park,” Ika recalled, adding that locals agreed to refrain from practices of illegal logging.
The recovery program was not easy. Locals staged protests for losing their living income. “At that time, we earned Rp3 million per week for entering the forest and cutting trees,” he said.
However, the efforts in generating an ecotourism village slowly bore fruit. Multiple training was established with the help of the Environment Ministry and many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), starting from cooking, exploring nature, until English language courses.
Ika Sitepu and his friend Jack Lingga recalled their journey with a sense of proud. “Now, we are no longer illegal loggers. We are rangers, forest protectors,” said Jack Lingga. While escorting tourists exploring the forest, they conducted forest patrols.
“If someone violate the regulation, cutting trees without a strong reason, we will take the person to the village meeting,” Jack asserted.
Throughout 2018, it was predicted that some 30,000 tourists visited the village. If each tourist spends Rp250,000 on the ecotourism entrance ticket and accommodation, then the regional income will amount to Rp7.5 billion a year.
Ecotourism program in Tangkahan provided a good living for locals, either in the lodging business, food and beverages supply, elephant care, and tour guide for forest explore. The environment of Mount Leuser National Park and the forest remain well preserved as well.