Meet Borneo’s first women ranger teams
Tropical rainforests in Indonesia are threatened every year by wildfires that destroy thousands of hectares of forest. To prevent these, women-led teams collectively called the “Power of Mama”, have been working to reduce the forest fires since 2022, when they were created by the Yayasan International Animal Rescue Indonesia (YIARI), an organisation that has been rescuing orangutans from captivity since 2009.
In 2021, fires burned 353,222 hectares (872,831 acres) of land – an area twice the size of the city of London – according to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Fires not only endanger wildlife, threatening the survival of the Bornean orangutans, but they also lead to spikes in carbon emissions, further contributing to climate change.
Creating women-led fire prevention teams addresses two intertwined challenges: gender inequality and environmental issues such as deforestation, climate change, and poor water and soil quality.
“As champions of wildlife conservation, role models, educators and beacons of hope, the female-led fire prevention teams will not only transform attitudes towards the role of women in their villages, but they will also highlight the capabilities and success of females in traditionally male roles,” says Gail Campbell-Smith, Research and Conservation Programme Development Advisor at YIARI.
The Power of Mama rangers teams are funded through donations, and also by The Orangutan Project, a global, non-profit conservation organisation that has raised over $25 million to support a wide range of projects that address critical threats to the survival of orangutans, such as habitat loss. According to the WWF, Bornean orangutan populations have declined by more than 50% over the past 60 years, and the species’ habitat has been reduced by at least 55% over the past 20 years.
Besides protecting wildlife by eliminating fire risks, the aim of the Power of Mama also includes restoring peatlands to their natural waterlogged condition. According to Human Rights Watch, peatlands in Indonesia are the largest terrestrial carbon store on earth, storing an estimated 80 billion tons of carbon, equivalent to approximately 5 percent of all carbon stored in soil globally. At one time, Indonesia housed approximately 50 percent of the world’s total tropical peatlands, but that is rapidly diminishing as large-scale cultivation of these lands for oil palm plantations increases. Their protection is a key component of global efforts to address the climate crisis.
“By empowering women to engage with environmental issues, we are mobilising a whole new section of the community, greatly enhancing our ability to protect forests, save wildlife, and change lives for the better,” says Kylie Bullo, the Conservation Project Manager with The Orangutan Project.