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Sumatra

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.

Returning to Siberut: 30 years later, little has changed on remote Indonesian island

Tony Whitten's picture

Go anywhere after a 30 year break and you expect to see change – and you hope things will be better. Thus my wife Jane and I, together with our four children, were intrigued to see what life was like now on Siberut, the largest and most northerly of the Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra, when we visited it a few weeks ago. Jane and I had lived in a hut in the middle of the island conducting wildlife research for over two years until 1978. We wanted to see our closest friend there, Potifar Tengatiti Siribetuk, as well as other old friends, our old study area, some of the remaining traditional houses, and as many of Siberut’s four endemic species of primates as we could.

Visiting the island and the provincial capital of Padang also provided an opportunity to observe the impacts of the $1 million of grants which had focused on Siberut under the Phase 1 of the World Bank-implemented Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. These grants had followed on from an Asian Development Bank loan project (pdf) from 1992-2000 which was not a resounding success for a variety of reasons. This had itself followed on from WWF projects.

Indonesia: Gibbons sing their "great call" in rainforest of Sumatra

Tony Whitten's picture

In my recent post about the Harapan ecological restoration concession, I mentioned that I’d taken some video of Agile Gibbons. Here it is, showing them ‘great calling’ and throwing themselves through the forest’s high canopy. It’s a wonderful sight and a great sound.

 

Indonesia's 'big bang' decentralization experiment: Helping poor regions spend resources well

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

After five years in Indonesia, my family and I have left this wonderful country and moved to Kenya. The last five years have been excellent years for Indonesia. The economy stabilized, growth resumed and services started to improve, although modestly and not in all areas. Indonesia still remains an underrated country, but this may change.

Deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia – mapping the "thwacking"

Tony Whitten's picture

Click map to enlarge.
Looking at the new maps of Sumatra's forests, the Once-ler in Dr Seuss' The Lorax would not conclude that we "cared a whole awful lot," but rather that we were cutting them down as fast as we please.

It's nearly 35 years since I first flew over Sumatra, an island in western Indonesia. Looking out of the plane window, the dark green forests stretched to the horizon. Even if there weren't any Truffula trees, there were many herds of elephants, families of tigers, groups of monkeys and many thousands of lone orangutans calling and moving around the forest, hardly ever crossing paths with humans. Then came the organized loggers, the transmigration settlements, and the plantations – rubber, oil palm and industrial timber.

About half Sumatra's forests have been lost since 1985. Last year, a WWF report (pdf) found that forest cover in Riau province, central Sumatra, has fallen from 78% to 25% in 25 years.