This Dentist Offered To Fix Their Teeth If They Stopped Cutting Down Trees!
As a dental surgeon, a successful career in conservation was not something Dr Hotlin Ompusunggu ever imagined.
But her work in Indonesia, where she has helped save orangutans by providing people with healthcare discounts if their villages stop logging, has clearly paid off. She managed to trim the logging business and improve peoples health at the same time. This week she won a second “green oscar” prize and there are plans to replicate her model across south-east Asia.
TheGuardian reports: “The idea is to save the lives of these people and also save the forest. A dentist is not a typical background, but I’m passionate about community development and I’m interested in health in the bigger picture. I have learned that to be a healthy human being, you also need healthy nature, and that’s how I came to find myself here,” she said.
In 2007, she co-founded the NGO Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), with a mission to break the cycle between poverty and illegal logging in the 1,100 km sq Gunung Palung national park in remote south-west Borneo by giving local people healthcare incentives to preserve the globally important rainforest. The forest is home to endangered species including hornbills, gibbons, sun bears, clouded leopards, and 2,500 orangutans – roughly 10% of the world’s population.
Ompusunggu, who is from a big city on Sumatra, said she wasn’t originally interested in conservation. “I took it for granted that we had beautiful forests with orangutans. I was even sceptical about conservation, I wondered why we spend so much money saving orangutans. But I learned that the orangutan is the farmer of the forest, and the forest provides water for people, so it all comes back to people and conservation for human wellbeing.”
Illegal logging is destroying vast areas of the national park’s protected forest each year, and it has been estimated that 98% of it could disappear within 10 years. The 18 villages that border the park are very poor and many people resort to chopping down lucrative ironwood trees to earn a living.