The forests I work in face many threats which makes the work that’s being done here so important.
Logging is a familiar problem for forests all over the world and Buton is no exception. Thankfully due to the terrain (hilly!) illegal logging is not as serious as it could be here, at least not once you get a few km’s from the road, but it is still a significant issue.
Small scale extraction of timber by locals also takes place. This is mainly for domestic use for farm fences, housing and fire wood. Individually it’s not a massive problem but when everyone is doing it it can still have a big impact.
Rattan extraction is another problem. Rattan is a palm and the rattan canes (rather like vertical runners it sends up in to the canopy) are harvested and sold for export for the furniture trade. They’re used to make that classic conservatory furniture I’m sure you’ve all seen. Huge quantities are taken out the forest every day.
New trails and access-ways are being opened up in the forest every day. This trail was opened in the last months. They are creating a trail from the road, through the forest, up to farmland on the other side of the forest. They are planning to ‘pave’ it with rocks dug up from the forest and the idea is to create a road for motorbikes and push-carts to help transport the harvests down from the farms. The government is also widening the road that runs around the island which is further eating in to the forest.
Farmland is being opened up all the time on the edges of the forest and is gradually nibbling away at the forest. In fact one village not too far from La Bundo Bundo has, in the last 5 years, relocated itself illegally to just inside the reserve and opened up a huge area of farmland within the reserve. Sadly no one seems able, or willing, to do anything about it.
Buton Island’s main export is asphalt. The soils are rich with seams of it, much of which is sadly beneath the forests. More recently deposits of Nickel ore have been found across the island and it is now being mined at a terrific rate. Vast piles of Nickel ore rich soil lies waiting to be loaded on to ships at makeshift jetties to be exported for refining. Most worrying of all large seams of oil and gas have been found beneath the forests. Two years go the oil company Japex surveyed the forest leaving a trail if destruction in their wake as they cut enormous trails, cleared huge areas for helipads and left all their rubbish and waste in the forest. Thankfully so far they haven’t moved to start extracting it. Hopefully the cost will be prohibitive, as if they do start that will be the end of these forests forever.
It’s not just the forests themselves that are at risk. The animals within them are too. Hunting for food is thankfully not a massive problem but it does take place. The balinese transmigrant communities go hunting regularly with their dogs. They hunt for pigs (the wild endemic sulawesi warty pig) but will catch and kill other animals too if they can. The endemic Anoa (a small, highly endangered, forest buffalo) is also hunted for food. So much so that they’re rarely seen now. In 13 years I’ve only ever seen 3 individuals.
Other animals are trapped to be kept – either for breeding stock like the jungle fowl (a wild chicken and the ancestor of all domestic chickens), or to be kept and eaten at a later date like the deer.
I met these little boys one day on the way back from the forest. They were out fishing. When I asked them about it they told me they were catching little fish from around the padi fields to keep as pets. I thought that was quite sweet, then they clarified that they’d just keep them until they were bigger and then eat them!
Birds are often trapped to be kept as pets. Hornbills are particularly sought after but children will catch the little Sulawesi hanging parrots and smaller birds too. Sadly none live long in captivity. This little boy’s parrot had just died. His older brother had caught it for him. As sorry as I felt for the little boy it was such a tragedy – such a beautiful little bird’s life wasted for no reason at all.
There is also a local Bajo (or sea gypsy) community which lives just off the coast not far from La Bundo. Although traditionally a nomadic seafaring culture they are now semi-settled but still live mostly at sea building off shore temporary housing on stilts. They are particularly fond of keeping birds – especially sea eagles and small parrots.
Monkeys are also kept as pets. Usually they are not actively trapped or hunted though. Often people end up with them when infants are dropped by the adult females when being chased from the farms. People pick up the infants thinking they are doing the right thing, not realising that if they left it the mother would most likely return and collect it. Monkeys rarely do well as pets. They may last a few years like the two pictured here but once they start to mature they become difficult to handle and aggressive and are either killed or left tied up and ignored to die a slow and lonely death. Usually the infants don’t make it past a few months. People don’t know how to look after them and they die of malnutrition and stress. The little baby monkey I found in the village last year sadly died a few months after I saw him – from what his owners tell me it sounds like it was malnutrition. In a way though it was probably for the best as he has at least been spared a life of misery.
Reptiles aren’t immune to these threats either. The giant frogs which inhabit the streams here are hunted for food and very occasionally salt-water crocodiles are trapped and kept in small pits as pets. Turtles are also trapped and kept either tied up to jetties or in small wooden cages in the water. Their eggs are also collected and sold at the market.
So as you can see, this may be a small island and there are protected areas on the island but the wildlife and forests here are under tremendous threat. This is why the work I do is so important and why I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported the project this year