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Adopting Trees to Save Gibbon

The Jakarta Post, Sukabumi. Protecting the critically endangered silvery gibbon — a rare primate endemic to a few scattered forests in Java — is proving to be increasingly difficult with poachers targeting them for their soft and velvety fur while locals remain unsympathetic to their plight.

“If we can’t take timber from the forest anymore, then how will our children and grandchildren build houses?” said Iskandar, a villager from Cisalimar village in Sukabumi regency, West Java.

This question was raised during a meeting aimed at sharing information regarding the forest corridor at Mount Halimun Salak National Park.

Representatives from three kampongs, experts, the park head and around 30 others attended the discussion.

The central debate focused on whether or not villagers should be allowed to enter the forest and cut down trees, though other issues such as the restoration of the park’s 1,200 hectare forest corridor were also discussed.

If the deforestation of the corridor continues, the habitats and communication patterns for the silvery gibbon (Hylobates moloch) will be further restricted, putting the future survival of their species at risk.

Currently, they are found in Javanese forests, particularly in areas within Mount Gede Pangrango National Park, the Mount Halimun Salak National Park and the Ujung Kulon National Park.

Head of Mount Halimun Salak National Park, Bambang Supriyanto, said the protected area covers around 113,357 hectares of forest.

It has been divided into three sections, located in Sukabumi and Bogor in West Java and in Banten province.

The corridor acts as a home to the silvery gibbon and spans 4,200 hectares, linking Mount Halimun and Mount Salak.

The park is currently working to restore the damaged corridor with Japan’s Kagoshima University, primate researchers from Bogor Agriculture Institute (IPB) and botanic researchers and zoologists from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Together, they have developed programs to conserve trees and conduct research in the corridor.

They have also investigated water catchment areas in the park, with 117 basins impacting on the environment downstream, such as in Depok, Jakarta and Tangerang.

“The environmental issues with the corridor is the biggest challenge we face,” Bambang said.

He said large sections of the land have been used for inappropriate causes, such as farming.

“That is why I invited along the researchers from the IPB and the LIPI to help speed up the corridor’s restoration using the kind of plants that are good for the community and are also good for wild animals,” he said.

The park has introduced a tree adoption project involving the local community, where both individuals or companies can adopt trees.

For companies, the minimum involvement is planting five hectares of land with up to 2,000 trees for three years participation.

The money raised from the adoption program does not go the park but to the Gede Pahala Foundation.

“Through the foundation, we hope the public fund can be managed transparently and used for the benefits of communities living around the area,” Bambang said.

The fund, he said, would be used to train the communities and help them grow seedlings, while the trees are maintained by local groups.

“When a tree dies they are also responsible for replanting it,” he said.

The community is given assistance creating seedling beds, allowing those wanting to adopt trees to buy from the villagers and in turn, help raise their income.

The villagers are also required to plant trees, especially fruit trees and those of hard wood, in empty plots around their homes so they do not have to enter the forest to seek timber to build houses.

IPB’s primate researcher, Dones Rinaldi, said this action in preserving the corridor should continue in a way where the valleys and hill slopes are maintained in their original environments.

The forest is also the habitat for the Javanese eagle and the trees are good for nest building and for supplying prey, predominantly small mammals.

He said the Halimun and Salak zones should not be disturbed and preferably secured to let the original forest grow again, while the cleared zones should be well supervised to ensure there were no more intrusions.

Currently human activities within the corridor are still too high, mainly because there are many roads passing through the passageway from north to south.

Moreover, timber harvesting projects and the cultivation of non-irrigated fields have slowly begun in the corridor, and infrastructure like power lines and pipelines have crept into its zone.

He said situation has disturbed the life of primates and wild animals living in the park.

“Primates are one of the wild animal groups which can serve as indicators of the ecological health of a forest,” Dones said.

The primates’ knowledge of their territory can provide information about the condition of a habitat, which in turn can be useful in managing and rehabilitating the area.

“Damage to the environment in the corridor between Mount Halimun and Mount Salak ruins the habitat of the primates. This threatens the existence of wild animals because they are then vulnerable to poaching,” said Dones.

[Theresia Sufa, The Jakarta Post, Sukabumi | Tue, 12/30/2008 | Environment]

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