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Conservation

Returning to Siberut: Conservation changes on Indonesian island after 30 years

Tony Whitten's picture

It was clear that our study area on the Indonesian island of Siberut is now rarely visited by anyone. (More photos)

My last post described my reactions to going back to Siberut Island with my wife after a 30-year break, and this one considers the changing conservation situation there. The terrestrial mammals of the island are remarkable in that almost all are endemic, and among them are four species of primates (one an endemic genus) – levels of endemism equivalent to those found in Madagascar.

There has been formal logging on and off over the last 30 years but we hadn’t found a map of exactly where.  When we reached the basin where our study area had been, the views from the villages was of logged-over forest. The rights to log the forests had been negotiated with local clans, but in hindsight the benefits were pretty meager and short-lived. The trees the loggers sought were the large and magnificent Shorea, and with these now gone it is getting harder for people to make their dugout canoes. Also, we were struck by the contrast of the timber quality of the longhouses we visited in areas without logging against the timber quality of the small government-sponsored modern houses with corrugated iron roofs. The timber available now seems to start looking decayed as soon as it is nailed into place.

Indonesia: Here be (Komodo) dragons

Tony Whitten's picture

I thought that seeing zoo animals would have prepared me for seeing these unfettered beasts at close quarters, but I was completely wrong. They are HUGE.

I’d seen the video, read the book, heard the David Attenborough podcast, written the box, gone to the zoos, got the T-shirt. So I thought I knew Komodo Dragons pretty well, even if I hadn’t seen them in the wild.  I’d seen many other types of monitor lizards in forests and along rivers all over Asia and Australia, and didn’t think that seeing a larger one would be an especially great way to use up a precious day of vacation.

So when we landed in Flores in the dry Lesser Sunda islands of southern Indonesia, we were in two minds whether to bother to go to Komodo National Park which for nearly 20 years has been a World Heritage Site. There are certainly other things to do in western Flores such as trekking the Mbeliling forests, visiting the remarkable highland village of Waerebo, snorkelling/diving, and vegging out in some interesting hotels such as the EcoLodge.  Eventually, on the grounds that it would be faintly ridiculous to be so close to such a famous site and not to take a day to go, we rented a boat for the two-hour trip to the park’s Tourist Zone. (Mind you, I believe I’m one of the very few people ever to have gone to Agra and not seen the Taj Mahal.)

Giving conservationists and nature lovers (some) reason to hope for the future

Tony Whitten's picture

It’s high time I write something which doesn’t seem to be the work of a manic-depressive. Many of my blogs have majored on the negatives, but I honestly wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t have within me a deep-rooted hope for the future. As I have remarked before, conservationists are a wonderful band, but put a group of ebullient conservation friends together, and within half an hour the conversation has quieted down, turned grumpy, and you need to watch out in case any of them looks as though they are contemplating jumping from the office balcony or a handy cliff. We don’t celebrate the successes, or even the potential ones, enough. It’s a cliché to say that the war is being lost while battles are being won, but we should at least encourage each other with battle victory parties.

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