Mongabay Indonesia celebrates its 10th anniversary | Mongabay Impacts

In March 2012, Mongabay Indonesia was established to increase transparency and accountability in Indonesia’s forest sector, laying the groundwork for Mongabay’s global expansion.

A Sumatran rhinoceros feeding.

A Sumatran rhinoceros feeding. Photo by Rhett Butler for Mongabay.

Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett Butler believed Indonesia was an underserved market when it came to environmental coverage. In his opinion, Indonesian-led journalism was well situated to have real-world impact by publishing news in the country’s official language, Bahasa Indonesia.

To turn the idea into reality, Butler launched Mongabay as a nonprofit and eventually found a funder that recognized the value of building a team of Indonesian journalists to cover environmental issues.

With a grant secured, he posted job descriptions, and within weeks, he was able to hire a small team from an incredible pool of talent in the country. In May 2012, formally launched and quickly became the most popular Indonesian-language environmental news service. Mongabay Indonesia’s influence grew rapidly, gaining even the readership of high-level officials, including the president.

With its innovative ideas and pioneering work, Mongabay Indonesia also became a model for Mongabay as a whole and the other regional bureaus that followed. For example, the network of journalists Mongabay Indonesia built across the archipelago to provide insight on local and regional issues served as a blueprint for Mongabay’s global contributor network, which now exceeds 800 reporters in over 80 countries.

A track record of impact

Mongabay Indonesia has had real impacts on the ground, exposing corruption and abusive practices, documenting successful conservation initiatives, and raising awareness on a massive scale. In sheer numbers, Mongabay Indonesia has had more than 160 million pageviews and welcomed 63 million readers since its inception. The team has produced more than 16,000 articles so far.

Behind the growth statistics are stories demonstrating Mongabay Indonesia’s ability to inspire tangible impacts.

Sumatran elephants feeding.

Sumatran elephants feeding. Photo by Rhett Butler for Mongabay.

For instance, in 2019, an article about the killing of a Sumatran elephant in Aceh prompted a campaign that garnered more than 590,000 signatures, leading to an official investigation and arrests of the perpetrators. Until this particular case, responsible parties had never been held legally accountable for elephant killings, which were rampant between 2014 and 2019, when several elephants were found dead on oil palm plantations, sites where the potential for conflict with humans is very high.

Roki and his father, Nering, who live in a corner of the Orang Rimba community's palm oil plantation. They both have a chronic cough.

Roki and his father, Nering, who live in a corner of the Orang Rimba community’s palm oil plantation. They both have a chronic cough. Photo by Elviza Diana for Mongabay Indonesia.

In 2021, Mongabay Indonesia published an exposé on tuberculosis cases among Indigenous Orang Rimba communities that also highlighted the conversion of the Orang Rimba forest to oil palm plantations, which made it difficult for the community to find reliable food and clean water sources. Following the report, the Jambi Provincial Health Service in Sumatra announced it would create a special team to address the health crisis.

Korindo’s oil palm plantation in Getentiri, a village in southern Papua.

Korindo’s oil palm plantation in Getentiri, a village in southern Papua. Photo by Albertus Vembrianto for Mongabay and The Gecko Project.

In a year-long investigation with The Gecko Project, the Korean Center for Investigative Journalism-Newstapa and Al Jazeera, Mongabay traced a $22 million “consultancy” payment connected to a major land deal in Indonesia’s Papua province, exposing how it helped make the Korindo Group one of the largest oil palm producers in the region. Mongabay Indonesia was critical to the on-the-ground work that led to exposing this person’s role. Following an investigation by Indonesia’s Parliament, the Korindo Group was stripped of its membership with the Forest Stewardship Council in July 2021.

A Bornean orangutan in Central Kalimantan.

A Bornean orangutan in Central Kalimantan. Photo by Rhett Butler for Mongabay.

The future of Mongabay Indonesia

After building a solid reputation as the top environmental journalism outlet in Indonesia, Mongabay Indonesia aims to grow and publish more cutting-edge stories. Ridzki Sigit, Mongabay Indonesia’s program manager since its inception, credits the team’s hard work for the initiative’s success.

“I am surrounded by people who have the vision and passion for making Mongabay Indonesia a trusted and valuable source of information on environmental issues. And they continue improving the platform,” he says. 

One of Mongabay Indonesia’s most significant legacies has been its impact on local communities. “What impressed us the most was that when we wrote stories, it had an impact on the local community,” says Sigit. “From this we realized that our existence was significant.”

Thanks to a devoted staff and an increasing network of talented journalists, Mongabay Indonesia will continue to function as a leader in the field of nonprofit, environmental journalism.

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