As part of a LEAP project, Dr Susanna Curtin from the Department of Tourism and Hospitality joined a research expedition in January 2016 to Sumatra with Associate Professor Amanda Korstjens and Professor Ross Hill from the Department of Science and Technology. The primary purpose of this expedition is to pave the way for research students to determine habitat requirements for primates and elephants; examining how forest structure influences primate and elephant populations. However part of the funding for the expedition was also designated to support research into the strengths , opportunities and threats of ecotourism in the Genung Leuser National Park as tourism may be a way of protecting this highly biodiverse and important habitat.
Whilst Orangutan tourism can protect areas of forest which otherwise would be cleared for palm oil plantation, Indonesia is currently squandering a huge opportunity to offer a high quality, unique ecotourist experience. Sumatran rainforests have a wealth of flagship species as well as interesting birds, insects, mammals and reptiles. There are Asian elephants, Sumatran tigers, rhino and several species of primate including Orangutan (which only occur in Sumatra and Borneo). But as it is, the ecotourism that is offered at Bukit Lawakng and Tangahan is mostly orientated towards mass tourism and focused on single species.
Now a few months later a small team of students are travelling back to Sumatra to interview tourists as to their motivations to visit Sumatra, the types of wildlife tourism they engage in, the knowledge of the wildlife guides they encounter and the overall quality of their ecotourism experiences. It will be really interesting to collate the findings and to publish the results.