Rhinos and tigers and tea—oh my

Hope is Sent

You may have heard that last week, Harapan, meaning “hope,” traveled nearly 10,000 miles to reach his new home. This rare Sumatran rhino is a U.S. native but he has journeyed to what should have been his land of origin, ideally to help propagate his species—which is going to follow the path of our passenger pigeon if more baby rhinos don’t come along.

So when the Cincinnati Zoo said goodbye to Harapan, they sent him to Sumatra, an island in Indonesia, south of the Malay Peninsula, right on the equator. Here, the Barisan Mountains run down the island’s western side and are home to tropical rain forests and Sumatran elephants, tigers, and rhinos (all at risk).

Where Hope is Needed

I didn’t know this about Sumatra and their rhinos. I do, however, know that this island has had some difficult years, suffering devastating floods, earthquakes, and the 2010 tsunami.

Centuries ago, the island was the site of the Srivijaya (“great victory”) Kingdom. Because theirs was a prime location—positioned in the shipping route between China and India, the maritime equivalent to the overland Silk Road—this coastal and sea power controlled the Malaka and Sundra Straits. They dealt in luxury goods from the 7th into the 12th century, producing and shipping highly desired items such as spices and ivory—but apparently not tea.

It was the Dutch who brought both coffee and tea to the island (the Dutch were busy people: see my October 23 and Sept 15 posts). While the Dutch eventually left, coffee and tea remained, thriving in the island’s rich volcanic soil. In 1935, William H. Ukers wrote that “the island of Sumatra seems to offer the greatest promise of any tea-growing country” although this was solely for export and profit as he continued with “no tea is held for use on the Island of Sumatra.”

Indeed, Sumatra coffee is recognized globally as a premium coffee. And Sumatra Barisan oolong tea, grown at high altitudes, is known for its high quality and unique flavor as well. In the photo you can see that the leaves, which have been rolled into small balls, fully unfurl as they steep, releasing a wonderful slightly sweet aroma and a lush, buttery flavor.

sumatra barisan montage

Being an island, there is only so much room—and people, endangered animals, and crops must all compete for limited space and resources. Habitat loss, coupled with poaching, is a major factor in the precipitous decline of Sumatra’s rhinos, tigers, and elephants. And with the multitude of natural disasters in recent history as well as human-generated turmoil, the country has much to overcome.

Harapan’s journey and the news coverage it received brought some attention to Sumatra and its endangered wildlife—and an awareness of what this island offers, and what it sorely needs. Perhaps Harapan will bring not only hope for his species, but for all of us as we endeaver to live together and preserve the beauty and sanctity of our world and all its inhabitants.


~Rare Sumatran Rhino ‘Hope’ Arrives in Indonesia to Mate, Nov. 2, 2015, by AFP, http://news.discovery.com/animals/endangered-species/rare-sumatran-rhino-hope-arrives-in-indonesia-to-mate-151102.htm
~The Srivijaya Empire in Indonesia, c. 7th century to 13th century CE, by Kallie Szczepanski, http://asianhistory.about.com/od/indonesia/ss/Srivijaya-Empire.htm
~Srivijaya Kingdom, http://epicworldhistory.blogspot.com/2012/10/srivijaya-kingdom.html
~William H. Ukers, All About Tea, Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company, New York, 1935.