On a recent trip to explore Tanjung Puting National Park in South-Central Kalimantan and the orang-utan rehabilitation efforts in the various camps it became apparent how much the surrounding palm oil plantations are encroaching on the perimeters of the national park. It’s a sobering realisation to find that commercial interests are gravely infringing on the continued existence of wildlife, of the forest habitat, its biodiversity and the last remnants of Indonesia’s once mighty forests.
Tanjung Puting is the largest and best known of the national parks in the province of Kalimantan on the south side of Borneo island which is split between Indonesia, Malaysia and the tiny Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam. The park, bordering on the Sekonyer River, occupies an area of 416.000 Ha. Unfortunately approximately 65% of the park’s primary forest is degraded. The park was devastated by fires in 1997 and 1998, and is slowly recovering thanks in part to reforestation projects by the Bali-based Friends of the National Parks Foundation (FNPF). However illegal logging, illegal mining, and forest clearing for agricultural purposes are still threatening the loss of a natural habitat that is home to a big coterie of wildlife including orang-utans, macaques, gibbons, and the ubiquitous proboscis monkey whose claim to fame is that it only inhabits Borneo. Many other creatures like crocodiles, sea turtles, clouded leopards, civets, deer, wild cattle, Malaysian sun bears, and even elusive nocturnal animals like the tarsier share the preserve. Tanjung Puting also hosts over 230 species of birds, including eagles and hornbills.
Palm oil accounts for Indonesia’s biggest export commodity and is assiduously cultivated in many areas in Indonesia, notably Sumatra and Kalimantan. It is a very controversial product as it is noted to be bad for your health, the environment and wildlife. When flying into Central Kalimantan and over Tanjung Puting Park it is most obvious how palm oil plantations hem in the forest and the adverse effects on the environment are most clearly seen. Worldwide, efforts are being made to stem the use of palm oil precisely because of its bad environmental reputation. The European Union is now severely restricting palm oil imports. Hopefully these pro-active decisions will cause a domino effect and other governments will step up to the plate and do so as well.
In the meantime, a few organisations are trying to save and enlarge the forests to provide sufficient habitat for the endangered wildlife. On our trip along the Sekonyer River, bordering the Tanjung Puting Park, we encountered 2 reforestation projects, both initiated by the Friends of the National Parks Foundation (FNPF) which is headquartered in Pejeng, Ubud. These reforestation projects are the work of Drh I Gede Nyoman Bayu Wirayudha who is well known in Bali for his efforts to save the Bali Starling. One project is at Jerumbun, a hamlet across the river from the park where FNPF is managing a project to create a wildlife sanctuary on a buffer zone of 100 Ha. They have established a Volunteer Centre with volunteers from all over the world who want to participate and help the conservation work by assisting the local staff with the management of a big nursery, restoration of some of the degraded land, and protection and enrichment of surrounding areas that still have good forest coverage. The Centre also includes an arboretum, herbal garden, and an agricultural pilot project as part of a community development program involving the local people.
The other project is the Pesalat reforestation site, an area on the northern perimeter of the park. There its main objective is to increase the size of the existing forest by planting seedlings from the Jerumbun nursery with the species of trees, shrubs and plants that provide sustenance for the wildlife, especially for foraging orang-utans.
FNPF’s goal is to create a harmonious and sustainable co-existence between wildlife, habitat and the local communities. They support existing orang-utan rehabilitation programs by creating secure environments for wildlife, by restoring or rebuilding habitat, and persuading local communities to protect them.
FNPF is working hard to salvage the native forest and enlarge the once lush and teeming biodiversity of Central Kalimantan which has been destroyed by palm oil plantations, logging and forest fires, by restoring the habitats of animals, educating the community about the environment and sustainable practices, and empowering the locals to engage in alternative cultures to palm oil cultivation. But they need help. Drh Wirayudha, popularly known as Bayu, mentions that what they really need at the moment is more promotion and exposure of their tree planting projects. ‘Most public attention is focused on orang-utan rehab and release’ he says, ‘but not on how to restore and preserve the degraded habitat of the orang-utan. There is no point in rescuing the orang-utan when there is no habitat for them to live in. Unfortunately tree planting is not as sexy as the rescue of the orang-utan.’
FNPF also wants to promote their volunteer programme as it partially funds their reforestation efforts and would lessen their financial dependence on donor contributions. While they are very grateful to their donors they realise they cannot totally rely on donations as there is no fallback when funding disappears. The Foundation needs more sustainable income to ward off the danger of having to curtail or even shut down their activities.
If you want to dedicate some time to volunteer with the FNPF, you can expect to have a fun and meaningful experience while connecting with nature. The volunteer lodging at Jerumbun is not 5-star but comfortable, clean and well-maintained, with bathroom facilities and showers with running water. Meals of rice with local vegetables, tofu, tempe and the occasional chicken are simple but delicious and the FNPF staff will look after you and make sure you are comfortable. This is definitely a good project to dedicate some time to and a satisfying experience to contribute to a wonderful environmental cause. Check out the work of the FNPF and the Volunteer Program at www.fnpf.org/get-involved/volunteer-in-indonesia/volunteer-in-kalimantan
By Ines Wynn
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