In Indonesia, a female ranger brigade fights for the environment

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Waking up at dawn, Sumini feeds her large family and finishes her household chores before starting her other job as a ranger to protect the lush jungle of Sumatra.

• Read also: Two endangered Sumatran orangutans return to Indonesia

This 45-year-old Indonesian leads a women’s brigade fighting against the destruction of the rainforest and the poaching of tigers, pangolins and other endangered species.

In Indonesia, a female ranger brigade fights for the environment

The culprits are mainly men, sometimes neighbors or the husbands of some women of the team who live in the village of Damaran Baru on the island of Sumatra, in the west of the archipelago of Southeast Asia. .

The team of thirty women confronts sexist stereotypes, deeply rooted in this province of Aceh, which practices ultra-conservative Islam, and authorities often indifferent to illegal logging and the extension of coffee plantations. .

In Indonesia, a female ranger brigade fights for the environment

“The forest has always been associated with people,” notes Sumini, who like many Indonesians has only one name.

“But we want to change that and emphasize that it also concerns women. The women are angry at the destruction of the environment and have decided to act to solve this problem ”.


The group, which now includes one of Sumini’s sons and his wife, was formed in 2015 after a flood that destroyed dozens of homes in the village of 1,000 people.

Sumini’s husband, after long praying, agreed to accompany him upstream to understand why the waters from the slopes of a nearby volcano were carrying so much wood and debris.

In Indonesia, a female ranger brigade fights for the environment

“When we got there, I saw that the forest on the mountain had been leveled,” she says.

“I said to my husband, ‘Well, here’s the cause. The forest has been destroyed by men ”. I was angry and from that moment I told myself that I was going to act to protect the forest ”.

Twice a month, Sumini puts a hat on his hijab, rubber boots, and sets out for five days of forest exploration through steep and rugged terrain.

With her brigade, she searches for the slightest indication of poaching or destruction of the forest, frees animals from traps and lists endemic species.

The team also leaves signs warning of any illegal activity they report to authorities.

Women are also replanting trees by the thousands with the help of volunteers.

At first, their initiative was not well received in Aceh, an ultra-conservative province in North Sumatra, which is the only one to apply Sharia law in Indonesia.

“People thought that women could do immoral acts in the forest because usually a man guides us,” says Sumini.

“And some were asking ‘why do women protect the forest? “It’s none of their business.”

“Mistakes of the past”

But now, some loggers or poachers have come on their side and become volunteers.

After years of hunting pangolins, Bustami, 54, has stopped poaching these endangered mammals highly prized for their meat or scales, especially in traditional Chinese medicine.

In Indonesia, a female ranger brigade fights for the environment

“I don’t even remember how many pangolins I killed,” he says. “I won a lot of money, but it didn’t last”.

“Now I protect the environment to make up for my mistakes from the past.”

When he joined the team as a guide, and encouraged other hunters and loggers to give up their activity, he was teased by some men in the village.

“But I’m not ashamed of being led by a team of women because what they do for the environment is noble,” he retorts.

Annisa, one of the women on the team, is determined to change attitudes. And even her husband who has served in prison for illegally cutting trees.

In Indonesia, a female ranger brigade fights for the environment

“Our village would experience other natural disasters if it weren’t for the forest guards,” the 40-year-old told AFP.

Her husband, Muhammad Saleh, also gave up poaching to join the group.

“I was ashamed that my wife was working to protect the environment when I was destroying it.”

“My biggest regret is that some species I was hunting are no longer visible in the forest,” he says, like toucans.

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