Tuesday, February 17, 2004
GOOD NEWS FOR INDONESIA'S RAIN FORESTS
An additional 21,000 hectares of forest conserved!
Amidst pessimism of Indonesia' conservation record comes rare positive news from the little known province of Gorontalo
, on the island of Sulawesi
. The remote and accessible Paguyaman Forest
, one of Indonesia's few remaining pristine forests and the last stronghold in the world of the extraordinary curly-tusked pig, the babirusa
, has been increased in area from 31,000 hectares (120 square miles) to 52,000 hectares (200 square miles) by the Gorontalonese local government.
is a rare, enigmatic tusked pig
found only in Sulawesi (formerly the Celebes) and nowhere else in the world.
Weighing up to 100 kilogrammes
it is found only in rain forest and is seriously endangered as a result of the loss of its habitat. The babirusa is one of the earliest Sulawesi mammals to be known in Europe, described by Piso in 1658
. Its curious tusks have been the subject of much speculation over the centuries and appear to be important as signals of male fitness. This species is remarkable in that the adult males rear up on their hind legs and "box
" one another in order to establish dominance. The wild population of the babirusa is estimated at less than 10,000
The Paguyaman Forest
, which is accessible only by longboat, was gazetted as a protected rain forest reserve by the Indonesian government in 1999. A key feature of this site is a natural salt-lick
in the middle of the forest. Here the babirusa congregate in large numbers to consume the mineral-rich soil and this is one of the few places in the world where this elusive species can be observed.
Up to 44 individuals have been observed together there at one time. Sulawesi is the main island of the bio-region known as "Wallacea
" and has extraordinary high levels of endemism (species found nowhere else on earth). Alfred Russel Wallace
, the British explorer from whom the region takes its name, wrote in 1860 of Sulawesi " it is yet extraordinarily rich in peculiar forms, many of them unique upon the globe
". The Paguyaman Forest is home to many others of these forms, including the endemic Sulawesi anoa (a rare horned buffalo), a locally endemic species of macaque, a tiny species of nocturnal primate called the spectral tarsier and more than one hundred species of birds, living amidst a spectular scene of pristine forest, jagged mountains and steep waterfalls.
For the last fifteen years British scientist Dr. Lynn Clayton
has worked with a team of Indonesian colleagues
, including scientists, forestry department officials + former hunters
, to establish the Paguyaman Forest as a functioning nature reserve.
This work has included pioneering alternative methods of forest protection, involving Indonesia's elite special police forces patrolling
the Paguyaman Forest Reserve alongside local villagers
. This has resulted in the complete cessation of illegal logging
from within the Paguyaman Reserve, whereas prior to this step 10 rafts
of illegal timber were rafted past the project's field camp each day. This project has also carried out training workshops, Conservation Concerts + schools' programme
for local communities at Paguyaman, as well as boundary marking and construction of a field station
. These activities have resulted in a 180 degree turnabout in local opinion towards the reserve. A children's story book "The Special Place in the Forest
" has been distributed to local primary schools, and 8000 teak trees have been grown
and planted outside the reserve as a bufferzone crop
for local settlers. Five national + international television documentaries
, as well as local radio advertisements
, have helped raise awareness of Paguyaman's global importance for biodiversity
The project has also been active in stopping the illegal trade in babirusa m
eat. The babirusa are trapped using string leg snares
and transported hundreds of miles by wild meat traders for sale in the markets of Manado
, North Sulawesi.
This project worked with local officials to bring about the first ever completed court prosecution against a babirusa trader (2002), which provided a major deterrent to other traders. As a result of this and other project anti-poaching operations numbers of babirusa sold in local markets have fallen dramatically, from 15
babirusa per week (1991) to 2
per week today. Today most dealers prefer not to carry babirusa meat, instead trading in the unprotected Sulawesi wild pig.
In a further pioneering step the Gorontalonese parliament recently ratified local legislation to protect and manage the Paguyaman Reserve. Looking to the future the head of Gorontalo's regional government Mr. A.H. Pakaya
said "it is our aim to establish the Paguyaman Forest as a beacon of sound rain forest management for the whole of Indonesia and worldwide
Planned future activities at Paguyaman include the establishment of a rain forest research and biodiversity training centre, a participatory reserve management forum
involving all local stakeholders, expanded schools' programme and income-generating activities
for loca communities, and a "Cafe Paguyaman" to act as a reserve awareness and resources centre
Special thanks are due to the Darwin Initiative
for the Survival of Species and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
's Environment Project Fund
for funding this project. In addition we thank the Indonesian Institute of Sciences
and Gorontalo University
for their support and assistance.
by Matt Prescott
THE SPECIAL PLACE IN THE FOREST
A childrens' story book by Martyn Colbeck
+ Lynn Clayton
. Illustrated by Dadi Sungkowo
Long, long ago in the middle of a vast blue sea, there was a beautiful island. The sea surrounding the island was over-flowing with fish. There were small ones and big ones but every single one of them was more colourful than you can imagine. The island itself was covered in thick, dark forest. The trees of the forest clung to the mountains and valleys like a coat clings to your body. The forest was home to all sorts of birds and animals, most of which were found nowhere else on earth.
The largest bird had a huge beak that looked like it had been painted by a very clever artist in as many different colours as he could think of. It was so colourful that it dazzled all the other animals and birds when they saw it. There were black monkeys with no tails and insects that screamed so loud that the other animals had to cover their ears when they passed by. And there was the longest, thickest and heaviest snake in the world! One day in a very quiet part of the forest a mother pig built a small house out of branches. And inside this house she built a nest of leaves. There was only just enough room for the mother pig to squeeze inside because she did not want any of the other animals to know she was there.
And so, in the middle of the night when all the other animals and birds were asleep, she gave birth to a little boy piglet. It was not long before the little piglet opened its eyes and began to drink its mother's milk. As the piglet grew up its mother noticed that he was different to all other little piglets. He would often go for long walks in the forest by himself. He liked to watch the black monkeys with no tails play high in the tree-tops.
And the big bird with the colourful beak chose the tastiest fruits from the trees. But there was one animal that the piglet did not want to see and was the longest, thickest and heaviest snake in the world. The one place the piglet knew he was safe was on the beautiful white sandy beaches that were on the edge of the forest. And so he would go there sometimes to just lie in the sun. One day he was so tired after walking in the forest that he fell asleep. It was a hot sunny day and when he woke up he felt very, very hot. In fact he felt like he was on fire! so he ran and ran, further and further into the cool forest but he still felt as if he was on fire. So he ran and ran, further and further into the forest. All of a sudden he tripped over a huge tree root and flew head first into a large pool of mud.
There was a "psssssst" sound and steam rose into the cool forest air. The lovely wet mud cooled the little piglet in no time. A few days later a strange thing happened. All the little piglet's hair fell out and his skin became very pink and very smooth. and every time after that if the piglet wanted to go the beach he had to cover his little pink body in mud so he wouldn't get burned.
One of the piglet's favourite forest animals was the deer. he liked it because it was so quiet and shy which made it very difficult to find. The piglet liked the idea of being able to hide in the forest so no one could find him. Sometimes he wished he were a deer.
As the piglet grew up he thought more and more about wanting to be a deer. But the problem was he also liked being a pig. Maybe, he thought, he could be a bit of both- a pig-deer. In that way he could be everything he ever wanted to be. He told all his friends about his new idea. Some thought he was just a mad little piglet but most of them liked the idea and decided to join him. The new herd of pig -deer chose the piglet as their new leader and presented him with a crown of beautiful curved tusks. They called him Babirusa - King of the Pig-Deer!
For a long time Babirusa and his friends lived happily on the beautiful island. Each day they walked through the forest looking for delicious fruits to eat, swam in rivers, wallowed in the mud and played with their friends. Babirusa had several sons and each one had four beautiful tusks on his head - just like a crown. They all agreed it was great being a pig-deer. But then one day the peace of the forest was shattered. Suddenly the trees on the edge of the forest started to fall down. When they hit the ground there was a huge bang.
The noise frightened all the animals and they ran as fast as they could deep into the forest where they knew they would be safe. But the trees kept falling and so the animals had to run even further into the forest. Babirusa and all his friends and family now found themselves in a new part of the forest. Everything looked different.
There were huge mountains and waterfalls and different sorts of trees. The pig-deer even had to eat new types of fruit which they hadn't eaten before. It was not long before they got used to living in their new home. But then there was another problem. The pig-deer began to get sick. Some even died. Babirusa was deeply troubled and could not understand what was happening to all his friends and so he went off alone into the forest in search of an answer. He was so deep in thought that he failed to notice the longest, thickest and heaviest snake in the world hidden in the shadows. In a flash the snake struck out and bit Babirusa's back leg. In no time it wrapped its whole body tightly around him and squeezed hard. It was difficult for Babirusa to breath and he knew he had to do something fast. He wriggled and squirmed, twisted and turned but the snake's hold got tighter and tighter. Babirusa had almost given up hope when he remembered his secret weapon- the crown of sharp tusks on his head.
Using all his strength he twisted and turned and with a huge shake of his head stabbed the snake in its side. And then he did it again and again until the snake started to uncoil itself from Babirusa's little pink body. As soon as he could Babirusa wriggled free and ran off into the forest. He had had a lucky escape from the clutches of the longest, thickest and heaviest snake in the world.
Questions to think about:
Babirusa was now very tired and lost in the forest. By the time the large brown rotting pangi fruit on the forest floor Babirusa was so hungry that he did not care that he didn't recognize the fruit. He did not mind that he had never eaten it before. And so he broke the fruit open and ate the delicious white flesh that covered the huge seeds inside. He ate and ate until his tummy was so full he thought it would burst. And then he lay down on a bed of leaves and fell asleep. When he woke up Babirusa did not feel well. And then he remembered why he had wandered off into the forest in the first place- to try and work out why all the other pig-deer were getting sick. And now he too was getting sick. How would he help them now? Babirusa was still lost in the forest. It all looked the same. He tried to find a path that he knew. And then he saw a bright patch in the forest. As he got closer the patch got brighter and brighter.
Babirusa walked very slowly and very quietly until he got the edge of a large clearing in the forest. He had never seen any place like it before. It was a special place. In the middle of the special place was a small pool of water. After his long walk Babirusa was thirsty so he drank from the pool. The water tasted good and sweet. Even the mud around the pool seemed to taste sweet so he found himself eating that too. He had never eaten mud before but this tasted so good. As he ate more and more of the mud he started to feel better. He no longer felt sick and the more he ate the better he felt. Was this a magic potion? If it was, Babirusa had to tell his sick friends as soon as possible. And so he set off to find them.
After many days searching in the forest. Babirusa found all the Pig-deer and he led them back to the special place in the forest. There they ate the magic mud and on by one recovered. From then on the pig-deer visited the clearing in the forest each day to eat the mud. The special place had saved Babirusa and his pig-deer friends, because without it they could not live in this part of the forest with its poisonous fruits.
But even though Babirusa had found a place where all the Pig-deer could live, all was not well. For in the distance, even from the remote clearing, the pig-deer could still hear the distant sound of falling trees. This worried them. It worried them a lot. Because if the trees fell any closer to their home they would have nowhere left to run, nowhere to hide. They did not want their forest home to disappear forever because that would mean the end of the pig-deer and all the other animals as well. But for now there is still a special place in the forest-a place where Babirusa comes with all his friends and family. And if you are very quiet and sneak through the forest like a deer, you may, just may be very lucky and catch sight of them.
Why is it important for us to save the Nantu Forest?
The babirusa is an animal which is found only in Sulawesi and nowhere else in the whole world. Have you seen anything in the forest which would hurt the babirusa?
What do you think you could do, either on your own or with your friends, neighbours, family or school, to help so that the babirusa can continue to live in Sulawesi?
by Matt Prescott
Saturday, February 14, 2004
A reprint of an article written by Dr. Lynn Clayton
for BBC Wildlife
Its fearsome-looking tusks are the most obviously unusual feature of the pig-deer of Sulawesi, but there's plenty more to keep a babirusa researcher busy in the rainforest.
The smell of sulphur drifts across the still salt-lick. Perched high in a tree, I awkwardly shift position, small ants biting my skin. Pigeons drop from the trees to peck lazily at the mineral-rich soil, and the hot-upwelling spring in the centre of the lick bubbles. Otherwise, all is still.
Suddenly, framed against the jagged pandan leaves, a massive grey form appears and moves onto the open lick. Watching through binoculars, I zoom in on the grandeur of the tusks, curving elegantly over the animal's forehead like a misplaced primeval head-dress. He drinks quietly, feet sunk deep into the cool mud, body caked with layers of wet earth. His pungent smell wafts upwards on the hot afternoon air. This is who I've been perched here waiting for: the babirusa, inspiration of art and legend, endangered, elusive, unknown. The babirusa is a rare, curly-tusked pig endemic to Sulawesi's rainforests. Its most extraordinary features are its four amazing tusks, present only in the male: two upper tusks grow vertically through the snout and curve back around towards the forehead, while two others curve out from the lower jaw. These are what give the babirusa its name: babi means pig and rusa deer in the local language. The babirusa's extraordinary appearance - the tusks, combined with a whiteish-grey, hairless, hippo-like body weighing up to 100kg - has always engendered interest, and it was mentioned in European literature as far back as 1650. Babirusas were kept as pets by early rulers in Sulawesi, and were reportedly given as gifts to visiting diplomats. The tusks were the inspiration for Balinese demonic masks.
"It is yet wonderfully rich in peculiar forms, in some cases absolutely unique upon the globe," wrote Alfred Russel Wallace, the nineteenth-century naturalist, of Sulawesi's wildlife. And of all Sulawesi's species, the babirusa is the most peculiar. Though classified as a member of the Suidae (pig) family, it is an aberrant pig on account of its tusks and more complex stomach. Today, it is in grave danger of extinction. With its rainforest habitat ravaged and illegal poaching for its meat, babirusa numbers are estimated at less than 10,000 individuals. Spread out over 100,000 hectares, it is an extremely difficult creature to find. When I came to Sulawesi to search for a site to study the babirusa, I endured six months of fruitless surveys in the rainforest. Perched on tree platforms from dawn to dusk, I was rewarded at best by a fleeting glimpse of a babirusa’s tail passing by. I trekked into the forest with hunters, only to find their hunting grounds already bereft of babirusas. Finally, hunters guided me to Paguyaman, named for its massive river, and home of the forest-dwelling polahi people, who live at the feet of its jagged mountains. We travelled by longboat for two days, hauling the boat over rapids in the baking sun, till we got to Adudu - a name that means "Thank goodness we've finally arrived!"
Here, deep in the forest, we came upon a large natural salt-lick, 60m x 20m, devoid of vegetation, where babirusas gather to consume mineral-rich soil and water - a perfect observation site. The hunters built a tree tower of wood and palm leaves at the edge of the lick, and this is where I spent hundreds of hours over the next four years, piecing together a picture of the babirusa’s private life, the first such study of this species in the wild.
Adult male babirusas, I discovered, usually come alone to the lick, while adult females visit in large groups including offspring of successive generations. They visit the lick throughout the day and occasionally at night; 5-6 pm is peak visiting hour. But what is it that brings them to the lick? Analysis shows that the soil and water lying there are rich in minerals, especially sodium. Babirusas may have a scarcity of this in their diet, which consists of fallen fruit, leaves and animal material, and so they visit the lick to fill the mineral gap. But other interesting possibilities come to mind. A key fruit in the babirusa's diet is the coconut-sized pangi Pangium edule, which has a seed containing toxic hydrocyanic acid. Babirusas consume the whole fruit, seed and all. Lick soil might help protect their digestive tract from these toxins, in the same way that leaf-eating monkeys negate the effects of toxic compounds in leaves by consuming soil. Alternatively, the high levels of calcium in the lick water (four times that of the nearby river water) might help in the formation of strong tusks. The salt-lick is certainly a meeting place for babirusas from all parts of the Paguyaman Forest, enabling them to maintain social contact with one another and males to locate oestrous females.
Sometimes, though, days would go by without a single sighting. I came to dread the moment that I'd see a long-awaited babirusa raise its nose into the air, catch my scent and flee with its group back into the vegetation. Occasionally, though, the rewards were spectacular. Nothing beats the sight of 30 or 40 babirusas congregating at dusk. These gatherings are marked by intense interactions and an unforgettable cacophany of vocalisations. The highlight of the gatherings is combat between adult males, which sees two huge animals rear up on their hind legs, facing each other, heads high, in an extraordinary symmetrical 'dance'. The tusks aren't used, and a high-pitched shrieking accompanies the dance, which lasts for just a few minutes. In more aggressive encounters, one combatant may be lifted up off the ground by the head of the other (who remains on the ground), and impaled on his sharp lower tusk. Such impaling leads to severe wounds on the animal's neck. This style of combat is rare in suids, and is recorded in only one other species, Sus scrofa cristatus.
Babirusa frequently wallow at smooth-sided, multi-chambered mud wallows hollowed out by the animals themselves. Mud-wallowing not only aids heat relief: wet mud may also increase the slipperiness of the skin, making it more difficult for an opponent to get a grip on the body. Mud rubbed by babirusa onto trees around wallows may help to impregnate the animal's odour throughout its range, while resinous exudates from rubbing trees provide a protective layer against tusk injury and shoulder pushing. Aggressive encounters are frequently followed by courtship sequences, in which the male circles around the lick after an oestrous female, emitting a metronome-like lip-smacking; mating takes place in the cover of the forest.
The function of the babirusa's extraordinary tusks has been the subject of speculation for centuries. Local legend has it that the animal uses them to hang from branches, in order to spy out females passing below. Another suggestion is that they might protect the babirusa's eyes from thorn damage while foraging. As only male babirusas have tusks, it is most likely that, like a deer's antlers, they signal a male's prowess and fighting ability. Some say the ultimate purpose of babirusa fighting is to break off the upper tusk of another male, rendering him less attractive to females. Certainly, many old male babirusas can be seen with at least one or both upper tusks broken off and only stumps remaining. Only the long, sharp, lower tusks are used as weapons, against both other babirusas and domestic dogs.
The babirusa is gravely threatened from illegal poaching for its meat, in spite of legal protection under Indonesian wildlife law. Patterns of babirusa trade reflect local religious differences: the Christian area of Minahasa (at the tip of North Sulawesi) is the marketplace for wild meat from all over Sulawesi. Around 30 dealers leave Minahasa each week in small pick-up trucks to purchase wild meat 600km west, where the dominant religion is Islam and such meat is not consumed. Babirusas and Sulawesi wild pigs Sus celebensis, which are not legally protected, are trapped in string leg snares set by poachers under fruiting trees or along regularly-used pig paths in the forest.
The babirusa is particularly vulnerable to hunting as it has a slow reproductive rate, producing only one or two piglets each year. Smoked or fresh, the meat is loaded onto trucks at collection points and transported back to Minahasa, usually in the small hours of the morning, when patrols are less vigilant. Babirusa meat is sold openly in the public market, alongside the meat of bats, monkeys, snakes, rats, Sulawesi wild pigs and dogs, and it fetches about £1.50 a kilo. In 1988, 17 babirusas and two anoas (endemic dwarf buffaloes) were confiscated by a government team at Paguyaman, the result of one week's catch around the Adudu salt-lick.
In 1997, the Paguyaman Forest was legally protected as a 31,000 hectare nature reserve called Suaka Margasatwa Nantu. This area is of vital importance, not only for the babirusa but also for the anoa, the tiny, giant-eyed spectral tarsier and the locally endemic Heck's macaque. Reserve status protects the pristine rainforest and its wildlife from logging, poaching and slash-and-burn clearance. The status was won after an eight-year struggle. Teams of forestry department officials, police, researchers and hunters-turned-conservationists patrolled the forest by longboat and on foot, detaining illegal consignments of timber and removing poachers' snares. By night, they waited for meat dealers' vehicles to enter nearby villages and load their illegal cargo of babirusa meat; at dawn, they came upon raft after raft of massive illegal timber blocks being poled down river. Pioneering law enforcement was key to the progress. The first- ever prosecution for illegal babirusa trading was processed and this has clearly acted as a deterrent to others: the number of babirusas sold in the local market at Langowan has fallen from 30 a week in 1997 to five a week in 2002.
The approval for the nature reserve came not a moment too soon. Outside its perimeter fences, the destruction of forest proceeded apace. Night and day, overloaded logging trucks ground up the steep forested slopes across the river. Huge, buttress-rooted trees on the floodplain were burned, as 60km of logging road were carved into the area, and the Paguyaman river was bridged with massive trees felled from its forests. We often observed confused babirusas searching for lost wallows and pangi trees, and each day saw babirusa skulls lying in the clear streams - remains of the logging team's meal the previous evening.
But within the reserve, a different story is unfolding. Supported by the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species programme and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Environment Fund, the local community is getting involved in establishing Paguyaman as a functioning nature reserve. For example, a three-day workshop in July 2002 drew together 30 people from settlements all around the reserve to discuss its future protection. Development of the local economy was a key issue, and buffer-zone tree-planting programmes have begun with the aim of reducing dependence on the forest. In the months following, we met workshop participants around the reserve edge, telling others of the importance of Paguyaman and becoming active in reserve protection efforts. Today, the district government is proposing to upgrade the reserve to a 100,000ha national park, and an NGO, Yayasan Adudu-Nantu International (YANI), has been established to carry forward the vision.
Meanwhile, back at the salt-lick, there's a rustling high up in the tree hide: a local child peers excitedly through the hide's window at 10 babirusas gathered on the lick below. A macaque swings in the trees nearby. There is hope.
by Matt Prescott