Committed to Preserving Nature: Sulawesi

The number of Indonesians concerned with preserving North Sulawesi’s flora and fauna — one of the country’s most precious natural treasures — has been rising amid the uncontrollably high rate of deforestation. Beginning with an awareness on how to maintain the existing wealth for the benefit of all, their selfless acts are aimed at protecting the Tangkoko-Batuangus Nature Reserve in Ranowulu district, Bitung regency, North Sulawesi. This is in stark contrast to some government officials who view the existing forests merely as a quick source of easy cash. The environmentalists, on the other hand, see far beyond that in wishing to preserve the forests for future generations.

The groups’ activities also put to shame the conduct of certain members of the House of Representatives who abuse their influence by withdrawing protected status for preservation areas, hence turning them into prime targets for development projects, in return for bribes according to Hyginus Hardoyo.

Corrupt government officials and legislators fail to see the forest for the trees in an attempt to enrich themselves by any means necessary, as seen in the case of legislator Al Amin Nur Nasution, who was arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for allegedly receiving bribes to change the status of protected forests in Bintan regency, Riau province.

A number of other legislators admitted to having received similar kickbacks for the redevelopment of other nature reserves, including in Bandarlampung and Banyuasin in South Sumatra, for proposed construction.

Thankfully, not all Indonesians have the same corrupt mentality as these so-called officials and legislators.

There are those who, by considering the benefits of the forests not just for themselves but for future generations, are clearly looking at the big picture.

The Sulut Bosami Network, made up of local and overseas-based North Sulawesi natives, is one of these groups. Even though many of them are far removed from their hometowns, they still care enough to contribute toward development in the region.

Their activities include promoting the importance of maintaining and safeguarding the Tangkoko-Batuangus Nature Reserve, which covers an area of more than 8,700 hectares.

Johny Tasirin, a member of the group, and also the Sulawesi program coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said that preservation efforts targeting nature reserves in North Sulawesi constitute an important agenda which should receive attention from the government and related institutions.

“Sulawesi is an island with unique animals which cannot be found anywhere else in the world,” he said.

Tangkoko-Batuangus has an important ecological value, Tasirin said, because it’s home to at least 127 mammal species, of which 79 are indigenous to Sulawesi; 233 species of birds, of which 103 are indigenous; and 104 species of reptile and amphibians, 29 of which are indigenous to the island.

Unfortunately, the natural beauty of the forest, with its plethora of wildlife, is facing imminent destruction.

One of the biggest threats, Tasirin said, is the low level of awareness among people, including those living near nature reserves, about the importance of the existing ecological wealth.

“Hunting and destruction of habitat pose an immense danger to the existence of Sulawesi’s indigenous animals,” he said.

Tarantula is another environmental group in the area, made up of youths who live near the Batuputih natural tourism site, next to the Tangkoko-Batuangus Nature Reserve.

Concerned about the extinction of endangered flora and fauna in North Sulawesi, these youths protect the nature reserves on a voluntary basis.

“When I was younger, my parents told me stories of the large numbers of pig-deer in Tangkoko. But I’ve never seen one yet. Everything has changed into a mere fable,” Esli Kakauhe, 19, one of the Tarantula members, said.

The story of the extinction of the pig-deer motivated Esli and other local youths to establish Tarantula in 2006.

They are determined to safeguard the reserve with activities ranging from collecting plastic waste to assisting forest rangers in conducting routine patrols around the reserve.

“It’s too late to save the pig-deer, but we can still do a lot for the tarsiers and other endangered animals who make their home here,” he said.

A third group of environmentalists consists of local researchers like Saroyo Sumarto and Iwan Honuwu, who have dedicated a large part of their lives to studying and researching the animals at Tangkoko.

Saroyo, who is a lecturer at Sam Ratulangi University in Manado, has studied the lives of tailless makaka nigra monkeys, the Sulawesi black macaques found in the reserve.

Saroyo is one of a handful of Indonesian experts specializing in research on wild animals in North Sulawesi and also throughout Indonesia.