Human-wildlife struggles aren’t a simple contest
Opinion and Editorial – October 11, 2008
The Jakarta Post editorial on Friday (Sept. 5, 2009) reported the rejection of indigenous people of the Belimbing clan to the relocation of two Sumatran tigers from Aceh to Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Lampung.
A member of the Belimbing community protested the decision to move those tigers since the national park area overlaps their area. This case adds to a list of human-wildlife conflicts in Indonesia’s conservation effort.
Conservation is a complicated business in this country and wildlife conservation is even more problematic. Reports on human-wildlife conflicts are widespread. Mega fauna such as elephants and tigers (which have lost their habitats) enter human settlements and agricultural land. In several places in Sumatra, elephants have caused significant disturbances to agricultural areas. Tigers, on the other hand, have attacked goats and even villagers.
These encounters are always bad news for wildlife which is also hunted and traded illegally. Their habitats have been destroyed. It is believed that many more species are endangered or have become extinct.
Indonesia is recognized as one of the world’s biodiversity “hotspots”. The majority of such hotspots, however, are in developing countries which are challenged with complex social and economic issues.
Within Southeast Asia, Indonesia has the most acute developmental problems according to several indices, such as human poverty indicators and population growth (Wilshusen et. al. 2003). Therefore, social and economic problems are the main obstacles to conservation programs in Indonesia.
The majority of the population are agriculture-dependent communities, whose access to land is a primary concern. In many parts of Indonesia, protected areas or national parks have come under siege from farmers. Illegal occupations of forest areas and illegal logging are commonplace.
These are believed to be one of the main causes of forest degradation and losses of biodiversity. But many other parties are interested in forests including mining companies, forest concessions and plantations. These players have also contributed significantly to the damage to Indonesia’s forest areas.
The need to act decisively and quickly to conserve Indonesian forests is undeniable, but the best way to do this is debatable.
Therefore, to deal with Indonesia’s conservation problems, a comprehensive approach is needed. Since, the problems are more social rather than technical, joining conservation with an aim to gain social justice may be the answer. Of course, it would not be easy.
In Sumatra, for example, the six-year Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP) was undertaken by the World Bank in an area of the Kerinci Seblat National Park (KSNP). This project aimed to integrate conservation and development programs and build regional linkages and partnerships in conserving and managing natural areas.
However, the project showed how harmonizing development and conservation is no easy business: In the end the project was rated as unsatisfactory.
According to the project report, what was most striking about the result was a lack of linkages between development investments and the conservation of biodiversity, which was the project’s major focus.
Data showed that the greatest rate of forest loss during the project period was in the Kerinci and Solok regencies, which (ironically) received the largest proportion of Village Conservation Grants. This means that the linkages between village/district level activities and biodiversity conservation had failed.
The result also showed that more willingness to act is needed to gain better achievements in conservation programs. Conflicts between humans and wildlife are indicators that landscapes are changing. And, this is not only important for animals, but also for humans.
Landscapes which are no longer habitable for animals must also be too fragile to support humans sustainably. The capacity of forests to serve as life support systems, such as water reserves, has been put in danger. Thus, we must understand that conservation of natural resources is not only about saving wildlife, but also ensuring a future for human existence on the planet.
The ICDP has a high-quality concept, but problems have been encountered in the implementation of its policies. Its concept accommodates regional and people-oriented approaches at the same time. However, a concern for how best to combine conservation and establishing social justice needs to be underlined.
Changing the behavior of societies is complex and slow. According to the ICDP report, it is important to understand the incentives for certain types of behavior. The report also says if forests are under threat from outsiders, unenforceable covenants of uncertain value are unlikely to be successful.
Therefore, the society, primarily who need access to the forests, must play a key role in the conservation agenda. Micro-conservation efforts need to be initiated. Conservation efforts will be more successful when they focus on addressing and solving the problems of small communities who need direct access to forests and natural resources.
However, this country can not undertake all of its conservation programs by itself. It is also important to get international hands to help. In order to attract international attention, a certain species such as the Sumatran Tiger could act as flag species (like a mascot).
The flag species can play dual role: On the one hand it could attract international attention and on the other, the conservation of the flag species’ habitat would ensure the environment is protected.
The writer is a lecturer at the School of Forestry, University of Bengkulu, and a doctoral candidate at James Cook University, Australia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(The picture was taken from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/7069457.stm)