Celebrity endorsement? Don’t knock it! Long-time conservation supporter and award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio has irritated the Indonesian government on a visit to Sumatra to highlight rainforest conservation efforts. The nation’s top immigration official, Ronny Sompie, was so infuriated by DiCaprio’s comments he threatened to revoke the actor’s visa.
DiCaprio made a fiery speech including mentions of climate change during a visit to the beautiful Mount Leuser national park in Sumatra, confirming his support for a “mega-fauna sanctuary” in the area, a place already seriously damaged by palm oil plantations, mining and logging.
The great thing about celebrity support is it ends up splashed all over the media, and the message reaches millions more people than it otherwise would. This level of international exposure is important for protecting the lovely lowland forests of the Leuser Ecosystem, the only place left where the incredibly rare Sumatran elephant survives in the wild.
Ever-expanding palm oil plantations are decimating the region, cutting off essential elephant roads so the animals find it harder to get to food and water. The forest is also the last place on earth where you’ll find Sumatran orangutans, tigers and rhinos in the wild. But there’s more. The forests also play a critical role in regulating the earth’s climate, acting as a huge carbon sink. At the same time millions of ordinary people depend on the local ecosystem for their living, and for clean water.
The actor’s conservation foundation, which he set up in 1998, will work closely with the Acehnese conservationist Rudi Putra. Together they’re determined to create a wildlife sanctuary in the area by building barriers, training special wildlife rangers and reporting habitat destruction to officials and the media.
It’s hard to see why the Indonesian government is so angry. They hold the fate of an exceptional resource in their hands, something precious and unique, and you’d think they’d be more interested in conserving it than destroying it. It looks like short term gain and greed are, as is so often the case with politics, getting in the way of intelligent long term thinking.