A Journey to Northern Sumatra

An Orangutan in Sumatra


Written by Sophia Scott
Co-Founder GroundTruth Productions & GROUNDTRUTH Global

Filming is almost second nature to me, I feel my most comfortable and at home with my camera slung over my shoulder, tripod in hand and trusted backpack stuffed full of everything I might need. Using our 24L RIKR backpack in the country where it’s actually made, and where a lot of the plastic comes from, felt really rewarding.

There’s a luxury about traveling to far flung places like here in northern Sumatra, but it’s definitely not glamorous - the trip started in December 2019 from Heathrow flying overnight to Doha, followed buy another 9 hr flight to Jakarta. With all the flying we do at GROUNDTRUTH, we calculate every mile travelled and offset our CO2 footprint with Wildlife Works and their Mai Ndombe REDD+ project based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This project protects over 740,000 acres of the world’s second-largest intact rainforest.

After landing in Jakarta my colleague and I then had 4 hrs at a local airport hotel before catching a 530am internal flight the next morning to Medan in northern Sumatra. I had heard this was the most conservative part of Indonesia, so went prepared with long shirts and trousers to be respectful to local religious culture.


Map of Indonesia

At arrivals we were greeted by Kresna, a lean relaxed looking local guy to be our fixer for the coming 10 days, his cigarette and a reusable water bottle in hand we set off down the street to find our driver.

Little did we know we were about to embark on a 7 hr car journey through jungle roads, passing through cloud, to eventually arrive at a large fast streaming mud brown wide river. I thought we were crossing over in the dug out canoe to the other side! I was not prepared for 1.5 hr precarious ride upstream motorized canoe balancing all our rather heavy wheeled luggage, camera in hand trying to film the palm oil trees (trying to decipher palm oil trees from actual indigenous trees) and the beautiful sun set … our “camp” was always “ just around the next corner” .

Sophia Scott in Sumatra

Suddenly and rather abruptly in the middle of the river we hit something which cut the engine - no more engine. A small wooden paddle comes out, sun setting and the jungle starts to look more menacing rather than enchanting. It’s getting dark fast but apparently there is another boat coming. A second small motorized dug out canoe does eventually arrive and we set off again reaching a small stream that we turn into, very dark now under the heavy jungle canopy we pull up to a muddy shore - can’t see anything by this time!

These two weeks I am filming Mr. Rudi Putra, a biologist by training who is now dismantling illegal palm oil plantations that are causing massive deforestation in the Leuser Ecosystem, a 2.6 million hectare tract of forest in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. This is the last place on earth where Sumatran rhino, elephant, tiger and orangutan coexist in the wild. Rudi has made it his life long dedication to protect this unique place which houses the second most bio diverse ecosystem in the world. Rudi is the leader of the Leuser Conservation Forum (FKL) a local NGO in Aceh province - he manages more than 200 field staff here who are protecting and restoring this habitat. I learned that if you cut down the illegal palm oil trees, in just 4 years the forest naturally regenerates itself – nature when left alone mostly fixes herself.

Sophia Scott in Sumatra and an Orangutan

Spending time filming these magical wild Orangutans whose existence is severely under threat due to loss of habitat makes you recognize the dire need for us as humans to take into account our footprint on this planet, and learn to walk along side and not obliterans the natural world and all it’s wild inhabitants.  

Along with my sisters Georgia and Nina, I am looking forward to being back here in the Indonesian jungle testing out the UNDA bag, our new waterproof range launching in 2024, made from some very innovative sustainable materials.

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