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A wildlife reserve and surrounding areas on Indonesia’s main western island of Sumatra were declared the country’s newest national park on Friday, part of the festivities for World Environment Day.

Zamrud National Park is located in the Siak district of Riau province, whose vast peat swamp zones have been widely drained and dried for oil palm and pulpwood production, creating the conditions for the annual fires that envelop the region in a toxic haze. During September and October last year, the fires released more carbon than the entire EU.

The peat-rich Zamrud spans 31,480 hectares and is home to two major lakes — Pulau Besar Lake and Bawah Lake — and to 38 kinds of bird, including 12 protected species, according to government data. Rare mammals like the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) and sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) also live there.

Sumatran Elephant
Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Riau is famous for its diversity of mammals, including Sumatran orangutan, Sumatran tiger, Sumatran elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros, Asian tapir, sun bear, siamang, Sumatran surili, Sunda loris, and clouded leopard, among others.

Due to weak law enforcement and corruption, large parts of Riau’s other national parks, Tesso Nilo and Bukit Tigapuluh, have been trashed by encroachers. Tesso Nilo in particular is home to a multitude of illegal oil palm plantations which are regularly linked to the supply chains of multinational companies like Unilever and Nestle, which have pledged to eliminate deforestation from their supply networks. More than 40% of Riau’s forests have been cleared for industrial concessions since 2001, the World Resources Institute said last week.

Encroachment in the area of the previously declared Tasik Serkap Wildlife Reserve, which makes up much of the new park, has been increasing, Riau governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman said after the announcement of Zamrud’s establishment, which was commended by Siak district head Syamsuar at the event on Friday.

“The forest at Giam Siak Kecil [a nearby peatland area] has been destroyed by encroachment,” Syamsuar said. “If encroachers run out of room there, they will certainly move on to Zamrud. Even now, certain parties are attempting to claim land on the periphery of Zamrud. It is just a matter of time. That’s why we need to start protecting it now.”

More than 40% of Riau’s forests have been cleared for industrial concessions since 2001, according to the World Resources Institute.

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