The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Lee Poston

New Hope for Sumatra's Elephants and Tigers as Indonesia Doubles Size of Key National Park

WWF-Supported Effort Provides Oasis for Wildlife Amidst Deforestation

JAKARTA, Indonesia

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) hailed today's commitment by the government of Indonesia to more than double the size of Sumatra's Tesso Nilo National Park, one of the last havens for endangered Sumatran elephants and critically endangered Sumatran tigers.

Tesso Nilo National Park was created in 2004 but only 94,000 acres of forest were included. With today's declaration, the government of Indonesia will extend the national park into 213,000 acres by December 2008 and integrate an additional 47,000 acres into the national park management area of 250,000 acres.

"This is a momentous decision that offers hope for some of the planet's most spectacular wildlife and forests," said Carter Roberts, President of WWF-US, which supported the effort to extend the park. "There is still much to do, however, as Sumatra's forests continue to disappear to feed the growing global demand for pulp, paper and palm oil."

Besides being a haven for tigers and elephants, Tesso Nilo, in Riau Province, has the highest lowland forest plant biodiversity known to science, with more than 4,000 plant species recorded so far and many species yet to be discovered. The province is under dramatically increasing threat from the pulp and paper industry, clearing of forest for palm oil plantations and illegal settlements.

Riau Province has the highest deforestation rate in Indonesia - it lost an astounding 11 percent of its forest between 2005 and 2006 and has lost 65 percent of its original forest cover in the past 25 years.

"This is an important milestone toward securing a future for the Sumatran elephant and tiger," said Dr. Mubariq Ahmad, WWF-Indonesia's Chief Executive. "To ensure that the commitment is effectively implemented, we must redouble our efforts on the ground to eliminate poaching and illegal settlements within this special forest."

WWF has been supporting the government effort to extend and protect the park as the last block of lowland forest in central Sumatra large enough to support a viable elephant population. About 60 to 80 elephants are estimated to live there, along with 50 tigers.

"Tesso Nilo is still under serious threat from illegal activities, but if we can protect the forests there, it will give some of Sumatra's most endangered wildlife the breathing room they need to survive," Dr Ahmad said.

"And while we greatly appreciate this precedent for more protection from the Indonesian government, there are other areas on Sumatra that need safeguarding for the sake of its wildlife, its threatened indigenous peoples and to reduce the climate impacts of clearing."

WWF helped establish and supports the Tesso Nilo Community Forum, run by all 22 local communities living in the buffer zone of the national park. The forum supports joint actions to protect the Tesso Nilo forest and gives the communities a unified and more influential voice in park management.

WWF is working with local communities that suffer from human-wildlife conflict as a result of disappearing forests in the province. Hundreds of elephants have died in the last few years, often killed by villagers when they destroy crops. One answer has been to use trained, domesticated elephants to drive wild elephants away from villages and crops. WWF also promotes the planting of buffer crops that are not attractive to elephants.

"WWF is committed to working at all levels - from the field to the boardroom - to find solutions for Sumatra's people and wildlife and the global environment," Roberts said. "Here in the US, we are calling on companies to ensure that their purchases of pulp, paper and palm oil do not contribute to the destruction of Sumatra's forests."

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World Wildlife Fund is the largest multinational conservation organization in the world, works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United States and close to 5 million globally. WWF's unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature.