Washington - WWF's partnership with the Indonesian government to protect the most biologically diverse forests in the world - the last remaining lowland forests on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra - will result in two new national parks. A timber company agreed to retire its logging rights on some of the land that will be used for the parks, and research and advocacy by WWF field staff helped the government decide to create the parks, which are critical habitat for endangered elephants, tigers and orangutans.
The Indonesian government today announced at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Malaysia that it will create Tesso Nilo National Park on Sumatra and Sebangau National Park on Borneo in 2004. A 2001 WWF study found that the forests in and around the new Tesso Nilo National Park have the highest vascular plant diversity per area ever recorded by science, with 218 species of plants identified in about a 2000 square feet area, about the square footage of the average American home, twice the plant diversity of the Amazon. Yet it was being clearcut at a rate that would have wiped out the forest in less than a decade.
"Not long ago the lands for these parks were slated for logging. Today's announcement ensures that at least some of Sumatra and Borneo's unmatched biodiversity will be preserved," said Tom Dillon, director of WWF's Species Conservation Program. "We still have a long way to go before these parks are indeed functioning protected areas. Illegal logging and land conversion for corporate agriculture remain the biggest threats despite these areas being designated national parks."
Land for the 217 square mile Tesso Nilo National Park came from two retired logging concessions owned by Inhutani, an Indonesian logging company. WWF is currently negotiating with other companies to retire more logging concessions and increase the acreage of Tesso Nilo National Park. Indonesia has one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world.
"It's vitally important that these parks don't just become islands in an otherwise denuded landscape," continued Dillon. "Sumatra has lost so much forest to logging and land conversion that displaced Sumatran elephants are often reduced to raiding crops. This inevitably results in clashes with farmers and local communities in which elephants are captured and sometimes killed. Protecting this forest will help reduce conflict between wildlife and local communities."
"Saving the Tesso Nilo landscape is key to saving the Sumatran elephant and WWF has worked hard for five years to help secure this park," said Kathryn Fuller, president of WWF. "There is still much work to be done in Tesso Nilo, but this is a crucial first step toward saving this important forest. I congratulate the Indonesian government for making these national park declarations. We would also like to thank key funding partners in this effort, including the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund at Conservation International and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."
Tesso Nilo National park is home to the critically endangered Sumatran elephant and tiger. Sebangau National Park is home to 2,500-4,500 orangutans, one of the largest known populations of this endangered great ape whose habitat has declined 25-35 percent in just the last decade.