September 8, 2008

Editorial: Man or beast

OF the country's hundreds of ethnic groups and tribes, there are some most of us have never heard of. When we do hear of them, it is when their members cry out in fear of extinction. Such is the case with a community in Lampung called the Belimbing clan -- a name which Indonesians associate only with star fruit.

The tribe's representatives have protested the decision to move two Sumatran tigers from Aceh to Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Lampung, which overlaps with their area.

A village chief, quoted in this newspaper Thursday, said the authorities had not discussed the decision with them.

The majority of people on this planet are in favor of saving tigris panthera sumatrae from extinction. The tribes people were merely concerned about their own protection. Authorities working with activists, a private management agency, the Zoological Society of London and Safari Park Indonesia joined hands to transport the two tigers, aged 9 and 4, to their new home.

Can Indonesia ensure their mutual existence? Obviously, not yet.

Another clan leader cited the Constitution, which guarantees protection for traditional communities. Despite the offer of land and financial compensation, A. Zulqomain Syarif said, "we certainly refuse to lose our identity."

Authorities and the tiger minders are trying to convince villagers that they are safe from the beasts, who have consumed their goats and chickens and earlier, villagers in Aceh.

In Riau, 13 elephants and two people have been killed since 2007 in conflicts involving the protected species and forest squatters in Tesso Nila National park in Pelalawan regency.

On a daily basis, the issue of man versus beast plagues the country's more than 50 national parks and the communities around them. All are endangered, whether it is man-eating tigers, stomping elephants, traditional communities or poor farmers.

The failure to provide space for all is yet another reflection on the country's ills, such as mismanagement and poor law enforcement, apart from the sheer recklessness and apathy regarding the wellbeing of the people and animal and plant species, which we're supposed to protect.

The laws and regulations have their flaws; for instance, the rights of traditional communities are not explicitly addressed in rules on national parks, researchers say.

In Riau, the few thousand families living near some 80 elephants are labeled squatters while an official said their occupied land had been certified by local authorities.

Big businesses eager to bank on their public image instead risk being dragged into the disputes: Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper is planning to contribute almost 20,000 hectares to the expansion of the national park in Pelalawan, while a subsidiary of the Artha Graha group is managing the tiger conservation area in Lampung.

Forest depletion and illegal logging, which have resulted in millions of hectares of vanishing forest each year, are among the realities on the ground, coupled with animals wandering into human settlements for food.

Regarding the mismanagement that is currently characteristic of regions and the central government, carrying out public consultation should be the very minimum for authorities, which have been known to try to avoid resistance for their own selfish ends. They must not, however, implement the one-way, top-down "consultation" approach of the Soeharto years.

"People-based" conservation is today's watchword. Without local assistance in conserving areas home to endangered species for their own interests, the perception remains that authorities hamper and even endanger their livelihoods, while providing the green light for the exploitation of resource-rich forests by big business.

Projections of tourism revenue could be an extra incentive for the national and local administrations, as shown by the few thousand visitors enjoying the cool air, sights and sounds of the Mount Gede and Pangrango national parks just outside Jakarta each weekend.

Without the animals, the next generations will only hear tall tales of Indonesia's tigers "burning bright, in the forest of the night."

Resource: The Jakarta Post, Fri, 09/05/2008 | Opinion

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