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Indonesia’s Mascot and Umbrella Species: Sustainable Conservation and Use

  • Date:
    05 Nov 2021
  • Author:

Written by

Prof Jatna Supriatna Ph.D.

Professor of Conservation Biology

Dept of Biology, FMIPA, University of Indonesia


Every November 5, we always celebrate National Plant and Animal Love Day (HCPSN). Until this year (2021), we have celebrated it 27 times. Of course, every year has a different theme, but what is important is the objective, namely so that this nation knows, appreciates, loves, and uses our plants and animals. In a simpler meaning, it is an effort to increase our awareness and love for all plants and animals across this archipelago. This government effort must be appreciated because it is expected to change our view regarding the chaotic management of national plants and animals. We also have to objectively see the current condition of our plants and animals, with their population decreasing drastically over the years.


The Presidential Decree Number 4 Year 1993 on National Animals and Flowers was issued to increase our love and concern to national plants and animals, including three national animals, Komodo (Varanus komodoensis) as the national animal, Asian Arowana (Sclerophages formosus) as the enchanting animal, and Javan Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus bartelsi) as the rare animal. Three flowers declared as National Flowers are: Jasmine (Jasminum sambac) as the national flower/plant, Moth Orchid (Palaenopsis amabilis) as the enchanting plant; and Stinking Corpse Lily (Rafflesia arnoldi) as the rare plant. In 2020, HCPSN was themed “Plants and Animals of Hope for Food Security and Health”. Meanwhile, the plant mascot for the 2020 HCPSN was Torch Ginger with its rich benefits, and the animal was Javan Deer (Rusa timorensis) as an animal protein food source, which can only be obtained from captivity or the second offspring (F2), not from nature. In 2021, I have not heard the theme of the HCPSN celebration. Hopefully, the selected theme is suitable for our concerning environmental condition at this time. This year’s plant and animal naming aims to make the local and national governments provide attention to the conservation of plants and animals. This will create a beautiful and cool atmosphere by building gardens and parks in the middle of cities.


Will the 2021 theme be appropriate with the current situation regarding the severe damages to our plants and animals as well as the pandemic? Rumor has it that it will not be far from plants and animals for sustainable development. This theme is spot on to describe the current plant and animal condition positively. Negatively speaking, the ecosystem is badly damaged and needs to be conserved, because it will affect the sustainability of humankind. I want to bluntly depict our current nation’s plants and animals, especially concerning the criticism from national and international environmental experts and activists.


Heavy criticism regarding our failure in conserving plants and animals is often heard in each international convention, national and international newspapers, and scientific articles in national and international journals. These criticism are often useful so that we know the issues concerning our biodiversity conservation, specifically as a result of deforestation, thus jeopardizing the sustainability of species and ecosystems in Indonesia. Twenty years ago, the World Bank predicted that Sumatra’s lowland forest will be extinct in 2005, and Kalimantan’s forest in 2010. This prediction does not miss by much, because in fact, the remaining lowland forest is only located in conservation areas and some in hard to reach, remote areas.


The conservation forest also cannot escape pillaging, because the remaining intact forest is only located in the conservation forest. UNESCO World Heritage Commission in 2011 had included the World Heritage Site (WHS) of Sumatran Tropical Forest (Mount Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park, and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park) in the “endangered” category. This is caused by increasing illegal deforestation, forest conversion for plantations, illegal poaching, and building roads inside the national parks.


It is not that we do not respond to this criticism, but it seems that our response does not cause a strong enough impact. Perhaps it is because our response is very reactive and defensive, without any scientific evidence and views from independent organizations or experts. As proof, the problems that always arise in scientific meetings are the ones that have yet to be resolved for a long time, namely illegal wildlife trade, illegal poaching, and overfishing, which has caused a decrease in rare animal and coral reef population. Some are even in the critically endangered category, such as Sumatran Tiger and Rhino, Javan Rhino and Slow Loris, Celebes Crested Macaque in North Sulawesi, and other animals across Indonesia’s islands.


Since the early 80s, we have come up with an excellent plan for conservation, with the help of ADB, World Bank, European Union, bilateral organizations (USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan), and international NGOs, but it seems that the plan developed by Indonesian and international experts rarely serves as a reference for the conservation of plants and animals. Actually, Indonesia already has the strategy to improve conservation as well as address negative issues, in the Indonesia Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (IBSAP) book. Similar books have become references in every country, according to the mandate from the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). In Indonesia, the development of this book was funded by Bappenas and World Bank, and the last IBSAP is valid until 2020.


This plan is a revision from an action plan made several years prior, starting from 1993, and was revised every 5 years. This IBSAP book consists of two major topics, namely a book regarding a national action plan and another book regarding a local action plan. If these action plans are explored, we will find them requiring significantly large funds, both for researches leading to the use of plants and animals, and their conservation. Unfortunately, this book is not often referred to due to its lack of socialization and dissemination and is made more on the concept domain, not in the form of programs with funding support, therefore the wider public does not know too much about it. As a result, the funding for action plan activities never materializes and until today, the research fund for exploring and conserving biodiversity in Indonesia is extremely limited. Thus, we have to make priorities, which ones of the action plan can be implemented.


Perhaps the existence of this book is mistimed because at that time Indonesia was experiencing fiscal deconcentration and decentralization. This means that many programs shifted from national to local planning. So without wide socialization, local governments will not refer to the IBSAP book. As a result, biodiversity is no longer considered an asset, but a liability. Huge expectations desired by policyholders developing this book came crashing down, even though this book has included priorities in conserving, researching, and using biodiversity.


As Indonesia’s population rises, the need for natural resources increase, indicated by massive exploitative activities since the 1970s. Deforestation, habitat fragmentation, excessive use of species, illegal poaching, and foreign species invasion have caused the extinction of many types of plants and animals in Indonesia. High deforestation has increased our biota threat level each year. The number of our endangered biota becomes the largest in the world. Indonesia is ranked first on the number of endangered mammals in the world with 128 types, above China and India, and also the first in endangered types of birds in the world, with 104 types, above Brazil (103 types) (IUCN Redlist). Indonesia has even been established as a hotspot for endangered biodiversity, namely in the areas of Sunda Shelf and Wallacea, also some of the primary tropical forests in Papua (Whittens et.al 1999). The main threat for plants and animals in Indonesia and the world is species extinction. A species is considered extinct when there is not a single individual of that species is living in the world. For example, in Java, Javan Lapwing (Vanellus macropterus) is believed to be extinct. The last known existence of Balinese Tiger (Panthera tigris balica) was around the 1950s and has been categorized as extinct. Javan Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaicus) is also said to be extinct, last seen in 1979.


Now scientists realize that most of the threats against plants and animals are synergic. It means that the negative effect of various factors, such as poverty, logging, and overhunting combines to increase, even double, the damage to biodiversity. Threats against biodiversity also threaten the human population, because humans depend on their natural surroundings for raw materials, food, medicine, and even drinking water.


These threats can be eliminated by providing awareness of the important role of plants and animals in our lives. Just imagine, Indonesia only has 1.3% of the world’s area, but has 12% of the types of mammals, 7.3% types of reptiles and amphibians, and 17% types of birds in the world. As incoming biodiversity information increases, the number of plant, fish, reptile, amphibian, and avertebrae types will continue to rise. The same goes for types of mammals and birds. With articles on details and distribution of Indonesia’s plants and animals, all the compliments regarding the abundance treasure that is Indonesia’s biodiversity since the Dutch colonial era until today, have come full circle. Not to mention that the Indonesian ecology series book is now complete, from Sumatra (1984), Sulawesi (1987), Java and Bali (1996), Kalimantan (1996), Maluku and Nusa Tenggara (2000), and finally Papua (2007). In addition, there is also a book series on various biodiversity published by LIPI, national, and international experts, as well as PROSEA, a biodiversity program for Southeast Asia. So we actually have very comprehensive reference data regarding the biodiversity and ecology of all of the islands in Indonesia.


Book completeness, action strategy, and funding in the government are actually good enough to save plants and animals. They even should be considered as assets for sustainable development. Just imagine, if we want to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda, we have to pay $ 150 per day, excluding meals, accommodation, and traveling to Africa. If we can appreciate our orangutans, equivalent with African mountain gorillas, we should be using the same principle. This way, wildlife tourism can grow and produce large enough funds so that it can return some of the proceeds into the conservation program of said animals, in addition to boosting the revenue of our local governments and private sector.


Sustainable Use Solution: Sustainable Wildlife Tourism


The noble cause is that we can conserve Indonesia’s biodiversity as well as help the Indonesian government to develop nature tourism, both for domestic and international tourists. It is expected that the profit obtained from visiting this nature tourism can conserve nature, both by the community receiving the profit from economic amenities, and the national and local governments.  The economic value of conservation areas and their contents is, as released by BBC in early 2015, that the world gains a profit of $ 600 Billion per year from its investment of only $ 10 Billion per year.  Therefore, the conservation business, specifically nature tourism, is a lucrative business that heavily relies on the beauty of nature.


Of course in Indonesia, this potential is beginning to be the top talk, both by tourism and nature conservation experts. There have been many discussions regarding nature tourism in the world and in Indonesia, where tourists come to enjoy the beauty, uniqueness, and mystical atmosphere of Indonesia’s nature. Hence in the introduction of some of these book series, we focus more on; first is the potential relationship between nature tourism and biodiversity, second is the impact of nature tourism on biodiversity, third is the development of conservation areas in Indonesia as it relates to nature tourism, especially wildlife habitat.


Wildlife tourism has been huge and popular tourism since a long time ago. Wildlife tourism can contribute largely to biodiversity conservation. First, it can serve as a source for biodiversity conservation from tourists’ direct revenue in the form of payment to enter areas, taxes, and so on. Second, as an alternative income for communities living around tourism areas. Third, it provides justification for environmental activists to try to conserve Indonesia’s biodiversity. Fourth, it serves as justification for national and local governments to develop ongoing and sustainable areas. Fifth, it provides economic-based activities in conservation areas for the private sector involved in biodiversity conservation. Therefore, it is often said that nature tourism is also the manifestation of sustainable development in the form of tourism in which environmental, social, and economic aspects receive proportional attention.


One of the forms of utilizing the consumption value of direct conservation areas is nature tourism. This can be in the form of wildlife tourism, adventure tourism, or sporting tourism in nature. While adventure tourism emphasizes more on recreational activities, wildlife tourism highlights the benefits of conservation and community in the visited areas. As previously presented, the main attraction of nature tourism, specifically wildlife, in some developing countries is that nature tourism can substitute lost profit from hunting, and at the same time contribute towards animal conservation. Animal hunting and trade do not provide sustainable benefits, unlike nature tourism. With good management, not only we can save the animal population but also obtain more economic benefits in the form of sustainable conservation area development.


Another benefit is the development of infrastructures and human resources, thus improving the community’s economic activities within the tourism areas, in addition to improving the quality of education and community’s awareness of the environment, preserving cultural identity, and conserving animals and the natural environment. If managed well, nature tourism can become a source of income for local governments and the state. Costa Rica’s wildlife tourism revenue is almost 10% of its total state revenue. According to the government’s plan for 2014-2019, it is expected that the foreign exchange from tourism can increase four times, from 100 to 400 trillion Rupiahs. This is a very ambitious target, but it can be attained with the support of increased tourism visits to a number of national parks to see species endemic and unique to Indonesia.