The Indonesian archipelago is one of the richest biologically diverse hot spots in the world. It is considered one of the seventeen countries ranked as “megadiverse”. The term megadiverse refers to a group of nations that harbors the majority of Earth's endemic species and also contains a highly diverse concentration of flora and fauna. Megadiverse countries only account for 10% of the earth's surface, yet, they are home to more than 70% of the planet's biodiversity (source: World Atlas). When it comes to Indonesia, we know of its tigers, orangutans, elephants and gibbons, but the general public is perhaps less familiar with its proboscis monkey, tarsiers and the rest of the thousands of fascinating creatures of its 17,000 islands.
Definition of Endemic species:
An endemic species refers to plants and animals that only exist in one specific geographical region. Species can be endemic to large or small areas of the earth or to even a single island. Usually an area that contains endemic species is isolated in some way, and it has unusual environmental characteristics to which endemic species are uniquely adapted, which makes it difficult for that species to disperse to other areas.
Unfortunately, this diversity is both an asset and a danger. The Indonesian mammalian species are mostly endemic to the island where they live: the proboscis monkey only exists in Borneo, the Sumatran tiger is only found on the island of Sumatra, or the wild pig babirusa, which only lives in isolated parts of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and its surrounding areas. This means that territory in which these species can circulate and spread out is very limited due to islands of Indonesia's rapid economic growth and development - all these animals are eminently threatened.
The exportation of exotic timber started the first wave of deforestation in the 1960’s. It was followed by a massive conversion of many Indonesian forests in order to accommodate the growing and high demand of the palm oil industry. These industrial activities have considerably fragmented the habitats of all the Indonesian species. In Borneo, apart from the large block of protected land in the central mountains, the lowland forests have been reduced to what looks like pockets of green surrounded by plantations and mines. The endemic species that have always been the pride of Indonesia are now very vulnerable and constantly threatened by the rapid rate of deforestation.
Palm Oil industry's Impacts on Orangutans
° In the past 10 years, the orangutan population has decreased by 50 percent as a result of habitat loss from forest clearing for palm plantations.
° Over 50,000 orangutans on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra have died because of palm oil deforestation
° It is estimated that 6,000 orangutans are killed a year, a major factor in these deaths being forest clearing for palm production.
° In 2016, it was reported that just 45,000 orangutans remained in Borneo and at this rate, they will be extinct in the wild in just 25 years
However, this does not mean that all hope is lost! There are many encouraging signs such as the recent push to slow down all deforestation in Borneo, which became evident by the exceptionally low rates recorded in 2020, when compared to the years before palm oil fever took over the world. So if these species are endangered, it doesn't mean they are doomed. We can still reverse the trend by acting now and with conviction.
3 steps to protect megadiversity
Step #1: In order to protect megadiversity, first, it is urgent to secure these isolated areas of forests, which are located almost entirely outside the official governmental conservation zones. In these pockets, without concrete regulation of agricultural and hunting activities, wildlife will always be in danger. When the forest is fragmented, and animal populations weakened, traditional activities (which until now have not been a problem) become one of the key factors contributing to species extinction.
Step #2: Second, we must multiply these actions for all forests hand in hand with the local communities. The locals often claim ownership rights to these lands, to stem the erosion of biodiversity. This involves the purchase of land, aid to villagers, immediate and concrete monitoring on the ground, and with the blessing of the Indonesian government.
Step #3: Finally, the challenge for the future is to manage the connectivity of these isolated pieces of land with each other, so that the animals meet, genetics can be renewed, and the populations can remain viable.
It is the time for concrete actions and practical solutions. Big speeches are no longer enough. Indonesia must prove with concrete facts and numbers that the country is able to save these species and their habitat that makes us so proud, and set the example for other countries. It’s not too late to act!
Article written by Chanee.
Born and raised in France, Chanee moved to Indonesia when he was 17 years old and gained his Indonesian citizenship in 2012. Since he was 12, he has dedicated his life to helping gibbons, in zoos first, which eventually led him to act in Indonesia, where he created the biggest protection center for gibbons in the world. Chanee created Kalaweit in 1998, with the overall goal of saving gibbons and their habitat in Sumatra and Borneo.
Photo 1 Proboscis monkeys on a branch, one of the endemic species of Indonesia.
Photo 2 Orangutang in the forest, by Kalaweit. By protecting their habitat, it is possible to save the Orangutang.
Photo 3 Palm Oil Industry at work. Palm oil – requiring logging and then monoculture – is the number one threat to megadiversity.
Photo 4 Tiger on camera trap. Kalaweit monitors species on camera traps stationed on the land they protect to establish the level of diversity of the region and movements of the movement of the various species.