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Nurturing Nature: Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Sumatra

Extending from Tanggamus and West Lampung regencies in Lampung province to Kaur regency in Bengkulu, the 356,000-hectare Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP) is home to rare wildlife and vegetation as well as a haven for conservation researchers.

And, around a decade ago, the Way Canguk Research Station, a center for animal and plant research, was set up in the national park. In the process, however, the center has become a tourist attraction in itself, where visitors can observe survey locations and watch rare birds and mammals.

Built by the Wildlife Conservation Society-Indonesia Program (WCS-IP) and the Directorate General of Forest and Nature Conservation (PHKA) in March 1997, the station is situated between Way Heni and Way Haru villages in West Lampung.

Designed as a long-term field research and training center, the 900-hectare Way Canguk station reaches the maximum altitude of 100 meters and is divided into 200 hectares in the north and 700 hectares in the south, separated by Way Canguk River.

Seventy-five inter-linking plots, each measuring 10 by 50 m, are scattered in the southern part and 25 others in the northern section.

Most of Way Canguk’s research grounds are good quality primary forests. WCS-IP studies revealed that Way Canguk is the habitat of major species like Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae), Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorinus sumatrae), Sumatran elephants (Elaphas maximus sumatranus) and tapirs (Tapirus indicus). Seven primate species also make the park their sanctuary.

According to Priyanto Wibowo, director of WCS-IP for Sumatra, Way Canguk was chosen because of its forest quality, relatively smooth topography and easier access.

The station is a camp of six buildings named after species found in the area — Hystrix, Trex force, Argus, Elephas, Hylobates and Aceros. Its research and training facilities include libraries, laboratories and field equipment for animal and plant conservation.
Students conducting field studies learn how to gather data during biological surveys. They are also trained in putting up camera traps, measuring trees and geographical information system application.

Anton Nurcahyo, a Gajah Mada University alumnus now finishing his master’s program at Australia’s National University (ANU), said many Indonesian and foreign students collected conservation data in Way Canguk for their essays and theses.

“Two doctors have gathered data here. They stayed in the camp for about three months to two years,” said the research staffer of WCS-IP at the station.

The Indonesian students who have done surveys in Way Canguk came from the University of Indonesia, Gajah Mada University, the Bandung Institute of Technology, the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, Bogor’s Pakuan University, Bengkulu University and Lampung University, while foreign students came from Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University and the ANU. The foreign students who came to Way Canguk research station were mostly completing their master’s and doctorate programs.

Some of Way Canguk’s important research activities cover the phenology (climate related biological phenomena) of plants in general and fig trees, post-bushfire seedling and sapling monitoring, bat netting to identify bat species and a study of hornbills as a major arboreal bird species.

The life cycles of trees and the impacts of climate on forest regeneration belong to the study of plant phenology, which is conducted by observing and recording the number of fruits and blossoms, the growth of new leaves and the percentage of ripe fruits on a tree. All trees with a minimum diameter of 10 centimeters are studied in all the park’s 100 plots monthly, with at least 3,000 trees to be examined and noted down.

Data gathered so far indicates the pattern of plant reproduction, in this case the periods of blossoming and fruit bearing per plant species. The biomass of the fruits produced can also be determined because the number of fruits on every tree is estimated. Fig trees, the fruits of which are eaten by rare birds particularly hornbills, are given special marks and separately observed in different research plots.

Data analysis answers questions concerning the possible relationship between fruit abundance and animal population density, the connection between seed production and forest dynamics, as well as the factors that affect fruit trees’ blossoming and fruit bearing periods.

The post-bushfire monitoring of seedlings and saplings is also carried out to ascertain their capacity of survival in areas razed by conflagrations. This survey determines more definitely the species of vegetation that survive critical soil conditions. In this way, the rate of forest regeneration can be established.

Following the El Nino phenomenon in Indonesia in 1997, which delayed the rainy season and caused a lot of wildfires, seedling and sapling monitoring was launched in the partly burned national park. Some 165 hectares of BBSNP was reduced to ashes, including a research zone of Way Canguk. The fire destroyed the forest bed, with its deep impact on bottom-level vegetation.

The survey examined the survival of seedlings and saplings by fixing their numbers and species besides measuring the diameters of plants with a minimum height of 1.3 m. At the same time, the species of birds in the location damaged by fire were also recorded to find out those with the potential for seed distribution and thus seedling development.

Since its opening in 1997, the station has undertaken different wildlife and vegetation studies for conservation and academic purposes. The subjects of observation cover such rare species as tigers, elephants, rhinos, wild cats, hornbills, gibbons, birds, bats, fig trees (Ficus spp) and other plants. Camera traps are placed in several areas to discover and study the animals, sometimes hundreds and even thousands of times.

One of the Way Canguk station’s achievements is the rediscovery of tokhtor/Sumatran ground-cuckoos (Carpoccocyx viridis), which were declared extinct over a century ago. Originally, researchers placed their 500 cameras at a total of 16,544 locations in Way Canguk, Sukaraja, Kubu Perahu and Ranau in West Lampung. But the rare birds were found in Liwa, also in West Lampung. These cuckoos are now being studied in Way Canguk.

Located on the banks of the Canguk River in the middle of BBSNP, the station’s surroundings are divided into research plots in order to facilitate the identification of sites of findings. In the dense forest, researchers may encounter big lizards, squirrels, birds and primates. However, different rare species can only be detected through hidden cameras.

BBSNP data shows that in the forest, which has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, identified species of flora and fauna are diverse plants (514 species), orchids (126), rattan (26), bamboo (15), Rafflesia, a giant insectivorous flower (Rafflesia sp), bunga bangkai/devil’s tongue (Amorphophallus titanum and A. deculsivae), mammals (118), primates (7), birds (425), hornbills (9), reptiles and amphibians (91) and fish (51). Among the protected birds being surveyed are hornbills, including rhino hornbills (Buceros rhinoceros).

Therefore, the conservation efforts in BBSNP are important not only to the Lampung population but also to Indonesia and the world. The park as a whole is a combination of coastal and mountain woodlands, lowland rainforest (0-600 m in altitude) and mountainous areas (2,000 m), with waterfalls and lakes. Besides which, it has gold deposits, geothermal resources and 23 river basins on which the livelihood of over 10 million people in Lampung, Bengkulu and South Sumatra depend, while 181 rivers in Sumatra have their upper reaches in the BBSNP.

Priyanto Wibowo, the WCS-IP/Sumatra director, said BBSNP’s forest damage had proceeded at a fairly rapid rate in the last few decades. Unless proper precautions are taken against forest squatting, illegal logging and other forms of destruction, the 356,800-hectare national park will lose around 70 percent of its forested land in 2010.

It would be ironical if the BBSNP was put on the endangered list, while the UNESCO named it a world heritage site in July 2004, with recommendations on various sensitive issues to be tackled for its conservation.

Oyos Saroso H.N.