Australia Zoo - In The Field
Indonesia, and in particular the island of Sumatra is recognised worldwide as a ‘biodiversity hotspot’. Unfortunately this mass of natural wealth has led to massive exploitation.
Amazingly, Indonesia still has the world's highest rate of deforestation, with over 3 million hectares (30 000 sq km) being lost every year. Much of this deforestation is the result of corrupt political and economic systems that regard forests as a source of short term revenue, to be exploited for political and personal gain.
Kerinci Seblat National Park (KSNP) is one the largest national parks in Southeast Asia, covering over 1.4 million hectares. Located in central Sumatra, the park stretches over 350 km north to south and sprawls over four provinces: West Sumatra, South Sumatra, Jambi and Bengkulu.
The park’s size and inaccessibility due to the terrain make it one of the last strongholds for many of Sumatra's threatened and endangered species of wildlife, including the Sumatran Tiger.
As with many of Sumatra's National Parks, encroachment by farmers and massive plantation companies, combined with poaching and illegal logging are putting a heavy toll on the forests of KSNP and its animals. One of the problems that the wildlife faces is the increasing number of snares that are place in and around the forest. These snares are often set to protect crops from animals such as wild pigs and deer but are indiscriminate, catching anything that is unfortunate enough to walk into one. Snares are also placed to catch animals for profit – such as the tiger, whose pelt, bones and body parts can be sold on the black market.
Making A Difference
Fauna and Flora International (FFI) has been working in KSNP since the year 2000 and has had great success with its Tiger Conservation and Protection Units (TCPU). These units are rapid response teams (five in total at present) that conduct regular patrols in the forest and investigate reports of poaching, etc. The TCPU can often remove dozens of snares on a single patrol and have come across animals that are still caught in them – both dead and alive.
Australia Zoo has supported the excellent work of the TCPU for several years. This support has included vehicles, equipment and financial assistance. Last year, along with Dreamworld's Tiger Island, we donated three field veterinary packs. These packs were designed to help treat wildlife emergencies, such as animals that have been caught in snares. At the request of FFI, Australia Zoo's head veterinarian, Dr Jon Hanger traveled to Sumatra to conduct a workshop on the use of the drugs and equipment that had been included in the packs. This initial workshop has lead to us developing a structured training program that will assist the rangers in dealing with future wildlife situations.
In April, Dr Jon and I conducted a second workshop. The main goals of this recent workshop were:
- To continue and expand on the basic veterinary procedures and protocols introduced in the first workshop.
- To provide a basic level of competence regarding the initial emergency procedures and wildlife welfare issues relating to the safe handling and rescue of a variety of species.
- To introduce rangers and supporting staff to the basic principles and practices of wildlife anesthesia in a field emergency situation.
Dr Jon and I compiled a basic but comprehensive field veterinarian manual that was translated into Indonesian. The manual was designed to be an aid to the training workshop and was met with great enthusiasm. The manual has already been distributed to several other conservation and wildlife organisations working in Indonesia.
The workshop was conducted over three days. Nineteen participants attended from several organisations including the TCPU Forest Department and a local non-government organisation dealing with some key wildlife issues. We implemented a structure to the workshop that was both practical and effective. This combination was one of the factors that led to the workshops being a great success.
Due to the workshops being so successful, FFI and the TPCU have started to create what will be a specialist ‘wildlife emergency unit’. This new unit will not only deal with animals that are caught in snares, but also with the many wild animals that are confiscated from illegal traders. This need for a specialist unit has lead to the concept that a wildlife rehabilitation centre is urgently required. Australia Zoo will continue to assist with expertise, training, equipment and financial assistance. Dr Jon and I are already busy preparing volume two of the veterinary field manual. This volume will deal with animal welfare and husbandry issues.
Another need that was identified at the last workshop was for a box trap that could be used to capture and relocate tigers that were causing problems in and around villages, and were not responding to other solutions dealing with this conflict. Many tigers in the past have been killed for continuously preying on village livestock and pet dogs. There were several criteria that had to be considered when designing and building a specialist piece of equipment such as this. It had to be strong enough to capture and hold a tiger, but at the same time had to be lightweight enough that just a few men could carry it. The trap also had to have a trigger mechanism that would trap the animal without harming it. We had to consider the issues regarding transporting the trap – some areas are only accessible by four wheel drive. After much discussion, Trevor from Australia Zoo's construction team and Steve Irwin modified a design that they had previously created for catching crocodiles. We finally ended up with a fantastic trap that met all the needs that were outlined to us. The trap was also completely collapsible, and broke down into pieces that could be handled very easily.
Australia Zoo is very grateful to one of our partners in conservation, Fujifilm, for their very generous donation of six top-of-the-range digital cameras. The cameras were donated to the TCPU and will be an invaluable tool for the anti-poaching units, being used to collect images and information that will help contribute to the effectiveness of the units. The images that are collected will help to secure convictions of poachers and illegal loggers.
Singapore Airlines have also been very generous with supporting our conservation work this year. Along with the two previous trips to Sumatra (when Australia Zoo supported FFI with aid and assistance after the devastating earthquake and tsunami), Singapore Airlines have carried over 500kg of equipment and supplies at no cost.
Without the vital support from companies such as Fujifilm and Singapore Airlines, the work we do to support international conservation efforts would be much more difficult.
Global Forest Watch - www.globalforestwatch.org
Kerinci Seblat National Park - Kerinci Seblat National Park
An inside look at the ‘Secret Valley’ of Sumatra
A Guidebook to Kerinci - Joy Natividad and
J. David Neidel
FFI - Jeremy Holden/Debbie Martyr