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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.