Winner of the 2016 Whitley Gold Award donated by the Friends & Scottish Friends of WFN

Each year a member of our alumni network is selected to receive the Whitley Gold Award, a profile and PR prize worth £50,000 in project funding, awarded in recognition of their outstanding contribution to conservation.

Dentistry and reforestation: scaling up models to protect orangutans and improve health, Borneo

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Hotlin is not a typical conservation leader. A Doctor of Dental Surgery, Hotlin co-founded the NGO Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) in 2007 with a mission to protect Gunung Palung National Park in southwestern Borneo whilst improving the health of communities surrounding it. Spanning 1,100km2, Gunung Palung’s rainforest represents some of the most intact lowland forests left in Indonesia. It is home to endangered species including hornbills, gibbons, clouded leopards and 10% of the global population of orangutans – an ape gravely threatened by habitat loss.

ASRI mobile clinic

Poverty and poor health are important drivers of deforestation, with communities often turning to logging to pay for basic yet vital things such as healthcare. Hotlin is working to change this. Through healthcare incentives, ASRI is applying innovative solutions to reduce the need for people to exploit the forest whilst improving access to healthcare for villagers. Families who stop logging receive extra discounts of up to 70% on medical care. No-one is turned away; those who cannot afford treatment can pay using non-cash means by participating in reforestation activities or alternative livelihoods programmes including organic farming.

USE Organic farming training

A Whitley Award winner in 2011 and a recipient of further funding in 2013 and 2014. With the support of WFN Hotlin’s project has:

  • Significantly decreased illegal logging in 18 villages
  • Reduced the number of households involved with illegal logging from 1,350 to 450.
  • Set up teams of local Forest Guardians in all 34 sub-villages bordering the Park and 40 sub-villages that are part of the Park’s greater periphery. These Guardians monitor illegal logging and teach others about the importance of healthy forest ecosystems.
  • Trained 591 people in organic farming as an alternative to illegal logging.
  • Treated over 24,000 patients in ASRI’s medical and mobile clinics.
  • Improved local health: since 2007 infant deaths have fallen by two thirds and child immunisation rates have increased by 25% with statistically significant reductions in rates of common illnesses.
  • Reached more than 1,000 people through outreach programmes to raise awareness of the importance of tropical forest.
  • Planted over 100,000 native seedlings to restore the Park.
  • Evidenced the return of orangutans to ASRI’s reforestation site.
  • Developed a joint work plan with the National Park Bureau (BTN) which facilitates collaboration between researchers, park rangers, Forest Guardians and the police to protect the Park.

With her Whitley Gold Award, Hotlin and her team will:

  • Implement activities outlined in the joint work plan between ASRI and BTN to increase law enforcement, combat forest fires and improve relations between communities and the park authorities.
  • Map and gazette the Park boundary and make people aware of multi-use zones to reduce land-use conflicts.
  • Establish Indonesia’s first ‘Conservation Hospital’ to serve as a first class medical facility and environmental education centre.
  • Support healthcare subsidies for communities protecting forests and biodiversity.
    Reach 200 children from six schools through ASRI’s education programme and field trips to the Park.
  • Conduct community-based monitoring of orangutans and other wildlife.
  • Strengthen ASRI’s long-term sustainability by pursuing fundraising opportunities in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.
  • Evaluate ASRI’s impact through quantitative and qualitative assessment and adapt conservation approaches in response to socio-economic change involving 1,200 households.
  • Explore the expansion of this model to other sites in Indonesia including Sumatra, Sulawesi and Papua.

If you give people alternatives and sustainable ways of living they can live alongside the forest.

2011 Whitley Award Project

Dentistry and Deforestation: local community health through forest stewardship, Gunung Palung National Park, Borneo

Hotlin Ompusunggu, from Sumatra, is not your average conservation leader. A doctor of Dental Surgery, Hotlin is Program Manager of the NGO Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), an organisation founded in 2007 and dedicated to protecting Gunung Palung National Park in Southwestern Borneo, whilst also improving the healthcare of communities that surround it.

Within Gunung Palung’s 90,000 hectares are possibly the most intact lowland hardwood forests left in Indonesia. Home to many endangered species including hornbills and gibbons, some 2,500 orangutans also live here, 10% of the entire global population of an ape species gravely threatened by habitat loss. It is estimated that 98% of Indonesia’s rainforests will disappear over the next decade, with the lowland forests where orangutans live at greatest risk. Between 1988 and 2002, 38% of Gunung Palung’s lowland forests were lost – a problem that Hotlin has witnessed first hand, “The miles of low-laying swamp forest that previously lay between the road and the park have been chipped away, year after year, and now lie degraded. Some days the sounds of chainsaws can be heard from our clinic.”

Poverty and poor health are powerful agents of deforestation and more than a third of local households have been involved at some point in illegal logging. Hotlin is working hard to change this. Through healthcare incentives, ASRI is applying creative solutions to remove the need for people to overexploit the forest whilst improving the health of 60,000 villagers. Those families who stop logging receive extra discounts on dental and medical care at the clinic. No-one is turned away. Those who do log are encouraged to participate in restoration activities or the NGO’s many alternative livelihood programmes.

To date, the clinic has treated more than 16,800 patients and a mobile clinic service for remote villages has helped a further 1,200 people.

Following requests from locals who are not involved in logging, Hotlin and ASRI are establishing groups of “Forest Guardians” from nearby villages. These guardians monitor logging, teach others about the importance of healthy forest ecosystems and promote the benefits – both general and in terms of healthcare rewards – of protecting, rather than deforesting, the park.

Hotlin is putting the responsibility of conserving Ganung Palung’s forests back in the hands of the people who need them most and giving them the opportunity to improve their own welfare in both the short and long-term.

“Patients say this system makes them feel safe in the world, knowing that if anything serious happens to them, they will be Ok and will not have to go into debt or do illegal logging to pay for their healthcare”

Hotlin Opmusunggu speech at Whitley Awards 2011

Full winners list