Mark fights palm oil's eco-terrorism with camera in hand

Mark Glenn Harmony has recently returned from Sumatra, where he has continued his worldwide photography exploits.
Mark Glenn Harmony has recently returned from Sumatra, where he has continued his worldwide photography exploits. Iain Curry

"AS THE aeroplane's approaching all you can see it a dark canopy of palm oil plants and it's daunting."

Mark Glenn Harmony's introduction to northern Sumatra was awfully vivid - a horrific scene of palm oil and rubber tree plantations overtaking more than 80% of the jungle.

"Seeing the dominance of palm oil plantations from the air was a disturbing sight, but witnessing the total destruction of the natural environment wherever you travelled in Sumatra was a deeply emotional experience," he said.

"It hits you how dominant this palm oil and rubber industry is to the expense of everyone and everything."

The Australian hobby photographer spent almost a month in northern Sumatra snapping endangered animals in an effort to raise the profile of the diminishing jungles and natural habitats.

But in the midst of the destruction, Mr Harmony visited some exquisite locations.

"The Bar Balon River near Serdang Bedagai is a beautiful region of the country and offers an awesome rafting adventure," he said.

"As you paddle the varying grades of rapids, circle under an exhilarating waterfall and float through rock gorges with spectacular views, you quickly realise the hidden treasures that Sumatra still offers.

"The jungles of Tangkahan and Bukit Lawang have the last of the wild orangutans and Indonesian elephants, but with diminishing jungle due to palm oil and rubber tree plantations the prospects for these and so many other incredible animals is looking bleak."

The reality set in when Mr Harmony spotted a pregnant orangutan and six-year-old son playing in the canopy.

An orang-utan in northern Sumatra.
An orang-utan in northern Sumatra.

"Knowing these gentle giants of the jungle have been beaten, burnt, tortured and shot to the brink of extinction is heart wrenching and brings you close to tears," he said.

"The diminishing numbers and current rate of deforestation is further compounded by the fact that female orang-utans only give birth once every seven years.

"Sadly, this means they are destined for extinction which will be a world loss we will never recover from.

"Photographing this pregnant mother with her son and another mother with a baby infant was an emotional experience and one that has inspired me to raise the awareness of conservation preservation."

Mr Harmony also encountered a group of elephants that had been domesticated by a local village.

"Until recently these adult elephants had roamed in the wild, however, with their jungle environment disappearing at a ridiculous pace they had become a nuisance to local villages," he said.

"In the past they would have been killed but a small conservation project known as Conservation Rescue Unit in Tangkahan has seen these gentle giants rescued and domesticated.

"Now these elephants play a valuable role educating locals, socialising with visitors whereby you can participate in a jungle ride on their backs."

They also play a role in protecting the remaining jungle.

"Three times a week, the elephants and handlers patrol the nearby conservation park to ensure no illegal logging of the jungle is taking place," Mr Harmony said.

"These patrols are necessary as offenders are entering the conservation park to illegally mill the natural vegetation, then they proceed to plant palm oil at the expense of the remaining animals in the jungle."

While Mr Harmony felt blessed to come across wild elephants and orang-utans, he hoped to photograph a tiger, but due to rapidly diminishing numbers this was near impossible.

"It is anticipated that the remaining 200-300 tigers in northern Sumatra will also be extinct within a decade or two," he said.

Despite the mass of heartache going on, Mr Harmony wants the world to recapture the magic and share the thousands of photos he took during his month-long stint in Sumatra.

He is in now collating them into his second book Inspiration for Life, due for release later this year.

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Topics:  animals conservation environment palm oil photography sumatra wildlife

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