Scientists propose conservation areas for the unique island of Sulawesi
Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com
January 6, 2008
Also known as Celebes, Sulawesi is a part of Indonesia, resting between Borneo and the Maluku Islands. The island's interior is mountainous and forested, while the coastal areas contain most of the island's 15 million people. While the island is one of the least researched areas in Indonesia by scientists, what is known proves its biological wealth. Sixty-two percent of the mammals recorded on Sulawesi are endemic. One of the strangest is the world's smallest wild cattle, the Lowland Anoa, which is classified as endangered by the IUCN. Its population continues to decline—mostly because of hunting—with estimates at 2,500 individuals. Thirty-four percent of birds are also endemic; the most famous here is the Maleo. This endangered bird is the only member of the genus Macrocephalon. Although it has been protected under the Indonesian government since 1972 the species' population continues to decline.
Boletus species at roughly 500 meters of elevation
Into the forest, John Harting and Pak Yohannes
Myrtac flower and stem
Wana village - our accomodations and hosts
Grating the Ubi
All photos by Chuck Cannon
Due to its unique geography, Sulawesi has held off some of the agricultural pressures facing the rest of Indonesia. Dr. Cannon explains that "the sheer ruggedness of the landscape and the generally poor soils will protect them against the lazy, but conservation on the island continues to lag behind other spots in Indonesia." Perhaps this lag is due to the fact that the island has remained off the international radar for so long. The one agricultural initiative the island has supported was shade coffee: "the understory was being cleared to grow coffee plants. While this is much better than total conversion, the understory is basically destroyed and changes the regeneration of the forest." While suitable for coffee the island's almost impossible geography has helped it ward off one of the biggest threats to forests in Asia and the Pacific: oil palm grown for bio-fuels. Dr. Cannon refers to the conversion of forest into agriculture for bio-fuels as "crazy", and he worries that "the unwise and rich" will look "for some big investment and [pay] to clear large areas without realizing that it will not be profitable in the long run, so that no long term benefit to the local economy occurs, the forest is gone."
Dr. Cannon tries "to remain optimistic" about the future of Sulawesi's forests, and in particular the twenty areas pointed out in the study. He states that from his experience most officials "have their heart in the right place" but " they are often between a rock and hard place and almost can't avoid being against conservation. If we could figure out reasonable alternative incentives for these people, things would improve but creating these incentive structures often require major social reorganization." Hope may come in the UN's burgeoning incentive to pay nations to conserve their forests, entitled REDD. Dr. Cannon states that "if forests could be brought into the climate equation, which they obviously should be, things could improve for Sulawesi" and hopefully the areas proposed in his study could be conserved for generations to come.
Citation: Charles H. Cannon, Marcy Summers, John R. Harting, and Paul J.A. Kessler (2007). Developing Conservation Priorities Based on Forest Type, Condition, and Threats in a Poorly Known Ecoregion: Sulawesi, Indonesia. Biotropica.
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