Thursday, February 16, 2006

Fight Against Wildlife Crime - Government, NGOs and Industry Unite

This week in Sumatra nationwide efforts to eradicate poaching and illegal trade of tiger, rhino, elephant, orang-utan, made significant progress with the opening of an intensive “boot-camp” training course focused on enhancing wildlife protection. Designed to increase the role of local villagers and communities, the course is unique in that trainees are supported by, not only Government and non-governmental conservation organisations, but also by private industry.

Organised by the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program (STCP) and hosted by the Department of Forestry (Bukit Tigapuluh National Park), the course brings together a diverse group of twenty-nine dedicated individuals from across Indonesia, united by a common mission to conserve some of the world’s most endangered wildlife.

International and Indonesian conservation groups sending trainees include Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Program, and the Sungei Wain Protected Forest Management Unit (Kalimantan). Department of Forestry Ranger Police in attendance have travelled from West Sumatra, North Sumatra, Aceh, Jambi, Riau (Sumatra) and Central Kalimantan provinces.

In addition to Indonesian and foreign instructors from Bukit Tigapuluh National Park and the STCP, training staff have been assembled from provincial Police, the local health department, the Indonesian Rhino Conservation Program and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (Frankfurt Zoological Society).

The training board also includes 8 members of Indonesia’s new and elite Forest Police Rapid Reaction Force (SPORC: Satuan Polisi Hutan Reaksi Cepat) – only recently formalised by the Minister of Forestry in January 2006.

Class-based training, starting on the 2nd February, will run for 15 days – covering conservation regulations, law enforcement, arrest and evidence collection, navigation, map reading, report writing, radio operation, emergency evacuation, survival, field tactics and operational strategy. This is followed by 10 days of practical field exercises. This phase sets the 4 man teams into direct competition with each other, with the goal of covertly intercepting, carrying out reconnaissance and then planning and executing a strategic capture and arrest of an opposing
team. A final 5 day “live” exercise places 8 widely dispersed protection units deep in the mountains of Bukit Tigapuluh with the task of, through radio coordination between teams, designing and executing the strategic interception and safe arrest of an “escaping” 9th team.

The wildlife protection system being promoted is one which relies on recruitment and intensive training of personnel from local communities surrounding the protected area, each unit lead by an armed ranger from the Department of Forestry. The participation of villagers in this has, in
practice, seen a significant increase in the local acceptability of park and wildlife law enforcement efforts. It has also increased the perception of community ownership of nearby forests, developed a stronger sense of stewardship, and greatly facilitated the delivering of conservation messages to the heart of surrounding villages. In return both rangers and park management enjoy the support and empowerment generated by these close community links.

The wildlife protection “boot-camp” this year represents the second such training in Bukit Tigapuluh. In late 2004 the first camp recruited, trained and deployed 5 anti-poaching and habitat protection teams across the park. These Tiger and Orangutan Protection Units (TOPU) have been operational since then, providing a front-line defence against wildlife poaching and illegal logging. Together with the national park, the TOPUs have had unprecedented success in arresting and prosecuting a major wildlife poaching and trade syndicate stretching across several provinces. They have also been effective in eradicating large-scale illegal logging from the park’s buffer zone and provided ongoing monitoring of conditions in the remotest parts of the 1,400 square kilometre park.

With STCP and local Government support the units have also set-up a community school in the most isolated settlement of the park’s indigenous forest-dwelling tribes-people (Talang Mamak). Literacy rates of local children have been raised from 0 to 60% over 2 years. A large number of adults also attend evening
classes. A result is that the TOPUs receive the strong support of this remote tribe, including full access to their wealth of knowledge about the surrounding forest and its wildlife.

A goal of this year’s training is to break-down barriers and develop closer cooperation between NGOs working throughout Indonesia. Another high priority is the building of bridges and promotion of understanding between Government, non-government and industrial partners with a concern for wildlife conservation. A key to this is through reinforcing how wildlife protection units, made up of highly trained villagers from local communities, can best support efforts of Government law enforcement agencies. Finally, the training provides an opportunity to standardise field protocols and reinforce quality-control over geographically widespread teams.

The STCP’s field coordinator in Bukit Tigapuluh, Muhamed Yunus, summarises the benefits of the course: “The depth and intensity of training is unparalled. Navigation alone accounts for more than 30 hours of class time. More importantly, the skills developed are immediately applied in the field through a series of simulated week-long operations – all conducted under extreme conditions - identical to those in which wildlife protection teams do their valuable work”.

A unique and welcome addition to the group this year is the attendance of staff from Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (APRIL – Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd) - a major forestry plantation company that operates close to several high biodiversity sites within Riau province. Developing strong links between Government, NGOs and the major land-owning industries is considered by many as the key to ensuring responsible future management of Indonesia’s natural heritage.

“It’s now hoped that other private companies in Riau will follow the lead shown by RAPP in acknowledging responsibility for protection of wildlife in and around their concessions” reports STCP’s program manager, Waldemar Hasiholan.

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