One Chance to Save Sumatran Orchids from Extinction

By Pungky Nanda Pratama

There are between 5,000–6,000 species of orchids living in Indonesia, most of them native to Sumatra, and many yet to be discovered. Sumatra is one of the world’s orchid hot spots, but unfortunately these beautiful flowers are increasingly under threat from habitat loss and exploitation causing them to slowly disappear from their native habitat.

With the funding from Biodiversity and Conservation Agency of South Sumatra, I started a Pilot project called the Flora Conservation Act which focusses on rescuing orchids and many flora species from the crop plantation area around the Kerinci Seblat National Park. Due to unsustainable agricultural practices, many trees have been cut down or burnt by villagers to make way for new plantations. If the villagers continue cutting down and burning the land for new plantations, then a lot of flora will be gone forever.

So far we have rescued 40 species of orchids as well as other species of flora including the Phalaenopsis violacea, Coelogyne asperata, and Grammatophyllum speciosum. We have established a small nursery as a sanctuary for native flora, where we try to propagate them and return the native species back to the wild within Kerinci Seblat National Park or the other protected areas.

I must cross the river or hug a tree in order to reach and rescue orchids. © Pungky Nanda Pratama

December 2017 was the busiest month for us rescuing native orchids and other flora. I spent two weeks collecting orchids from the rubber and coffee plantations near Kerinci Seblat National Park. At times I spent four to six hours rescuing Orchids. Some are easy to save but others prove more challenging as they grow in awkward places like on the top of a tree or the side of a cliff.

One of the unique rescues was a beautiful, endemic orchid species called a Phalaenopsis violacea, in the south western part of Sumatra. I joined forces with an indigenous guy called Taufik Hidayat who has a special interest in flora. We walked for two hours in the rubber and coffee plantations before we found them hanging on a tree along the riverbank. Phalaenopsis violacea is an orchid that needs a specific climate of high humidity and low sunlight in which to grow. They have beautiful shapes like stars with purple, white and green colors on the petals. The Phalaenopsis violacea, has a specific odor that smells like rose perfume and attracts pollinators.

Recently I had the opportunity to join the forest patrol supported by the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Agency of South Sumatra in the Gumai Nature Reserve, South Sumatra. The patrol takes place in the southern part of the reserve that has significant problems like illegal plantations and logging inside of the protected area. The patrol aims to keep the protected area safe from illegal loggers and poachers, as well as to save many orchids which grow in the plantation. We walked for 10 hours and collected 23 species of orchids that are now safely in our nursery.

Photo of Biodiversity and Nature conservation Staff helping me to Rescue some Orchids growing in the Coffee Plantation. © Pungky Nanda Pratama

We are trying our best to save as many orchids as we can, before they disappear altogether. We hope that this small-scale flora conservation project will become more recognizable among students and local people over here, and we can use this flora nursery to raise awareness about flora conservation.

To support Pungky and his work in saving orchids in South Sumatra please donate here