Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Creating the largest protected lowland rainforest in Sumatra

Bukit Tigapuluh National Park: Expansion and protection of this extensive and diverse rainforest ensures a future for wild tigers, orang-utans and some of the last nomadic forest tribes-people in Sumatra. GIS map of Bukit Tigapuluh NP and proposed extension areas within Riau and Jambi provinces. Draft Aug 2005, since revised.Strong all-round support is driving rapid progress towards full conservation status for this unique forest habitat of almost 0.5 million hectares.

Bukit Tigapuluh National Park is one of the most recently gazetted national parks in Indonesia, spanning approximately 145,000 hectares of lowland foothills on the central Sumatran borders of Riau and Jambi provinces. At present the majority of forested tiger habitat in these central Sumatran provinces, which only a few decades ago stretched from coast to coast, has already been logged out by oil-palm and ‘fast-wood’ (acacia) plantations, small-scale illegal logging activities, and rapid expansion of human settlements. The result is a crudely unsustainable landscape, degraded and fragmented, providing little long-term hope for wild tigers.

Despite this the Bukit Tigapuluh forest landscape stands against the tide, revered throughout the world as a biodiversity “hotspot” and classic example of the forests which once dominated Sumatra. It continues to provide sanctuary to one of the most unique and diverse biological ecosystems on earth, an assemblage of endangered wildlife and mega-fauna unrivalled in Indonesia, and is home to some of the last truly indigenous tribes people in Sumatra. These include animistic, nomadic forest tribes (‘orang rimba’) and semi-permanent traditional communities (‘Talang Mamak’) who live in a unique harmony with natural forests for their livelihood.

Bukit Tigapuluh is acknowledged as a Tiger Conservation Unit (TCU) level I priority habitat and as such has much to contribute in the fight to ensure that tigers continue to survive in the wild.

Over the past three years the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program (STCP) has been working with the Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHKA), local Government and surrounding communities to initiate and implement field protection, intelligence networks, local community support, park management enhancement and tiger population monitoring in the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park. The park has, at its nucleus, a field protection strategy unequalled anywhere else in Indonesia. During the last two years seven Presentation by STCP to the Minister of Forestry, regarding justifications for rationalisation and expansion of Bukit Tigapuluh NP boundaries - July 2005highly trained teams (TOPU – Tiger and Orang-utan Protection Units) have been instrumental in minimising illegal logging, and have also infiltrated, captured and prosecuted well established tiger poaching and wildlife trading networks.

The future of Bukit Tigapuluh now stands at a critical cross-roads. Once extensive forest habitat around the park is coming under threat from expansion of oil-palm and fast-wood plantations - through a planned, large-scale sell-off of land to industrial stakeholders. But the fate looming over these forests has been met head-on. Since 2003 the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program has collaborated with the Department of Forestry, Riau and Jambi provincial Governments, the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program and other local partners (including WARSI and the NGO Consorsium for Bukit Tigapuluh) to massively expand the protected area of Bukit Tigapuluh National Park. Although against the trends of forest destruction seen across Sumatra, expansion of the park has been met by enormous local, civil society and Government enthusiasm.

Doubling the size of the park and its protected buffer zone (to more than 300,000 hectares or 3,000 km2) will provide the potential of holding an estimated 80 – 120 tigers in a well managed and highly protected strategic site. The resulting national park will be the third largest protected area, and also the largest contiguous block of protected lowland forest anywhere in Sumatra.

The spatial plan for Bukit Tigapuluh expansion is supported by both local and national Government. A joint presentation in July 2005 to the Minister of Forestry, by STCP and its Government partners, was well received. Since this time political momentum for the expansion plan has been strong and progress rapid towards full stakeholder consensus.

Extensive lowland and hill forest surrounding Bukit Tigapuluh NP; the area shown here will be incorporated within the future national park boundaryIt is a key objective of the team to facilitate the Government’s own efforts by ensuring that forestry “production” areas neighbouring the park can be managed in order to contribute towards the park’s integrity. This is being achieved through negotiations with more responsible industrial forestry companies – some of which are demonstrating their concern for the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape by implementing High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF) assessment of their adjacent concessions. Already significant areas of forest have been surrendered by these concession holders.

The future proposed national park of Bukit Tigapuluh will represent the largest lowland protected forest in Sumatra - possibly in Indonesia - and will be the only area in Sumatra which supports tigers, elephants, orang-utans, tapir and the Sumatran rhino (to be confirmed) - all in one unique location. Even on its own, given strong protection and effective management, the expanded Bukit Tigapuluh will practically guarantee the long-term survival of tigers within Riau and Jambi provinces. The Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program considers Bukit Tigapuluh to be a highly strategic stronghold against extinction for the Sumatran tiger in the wild.

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