The babirusa of Sulawesi may be one of the world’s oddest looking—and acting—mammals. Literally meaning ‘pig-deer’ the babirusa, which includes four species, belongs to its own genus ‘Babyrousa’ in the pig family. Males are especially unique, sporting four tusks, two of which appear to come right out of the animal’s snout. To make it to the top of the babirusa hierarchy, males will combat each other in an activity dubbed ‘boxing’ where they will rear up on their hind legs and club at each other. Despite their many oddities, the babirusa were not formally studied until the late 1980s when Dr. Lynn Clayton spent four years in Sulawesi’s forest observing them.
“Like [biologist Alfred Russsel] Wallace a century before I traveled by wooden boat, slept in remote palm huts and spent long hours ‘perched on platforms in trees’ awaiting a sighting of the elusive babirusa. Occasionally results were spectacular as when I observed 44 babirusa together on the Adudu salt-lick at Nantu,” Clayton told mongabay.com in a recent interview.
Her time in the Sulawesi forests, observing a charismatic mammal that few people had ever heard of, pushed Clayton to work toward saving the species—which was disappearing due to habitat loss and hunting—as its forest home.
“The illegal poaching and rain forest destruction I observed during this time led me and my team of local colleagues to implement anti-poaching checkpoints and to campaign for formal protection of the Nantu/Paguyaman forest,” she says. In the twenty years since, Clayton along with local field workers, have managed to successfully preserve 62,000 hectares of the Nantu rainforest ecosystem.
Babirusa. Photo courtesy of Clayton
“Nantu has been described as ‘one of the top five best sites for biodiversity in South-East Asia’ by visiting scientists,” she says. “More than a hundred species of birds have been recorded here, of which 35 species are endemic. These include two species of hornbill. Particularly unique about Nantu is a large natural salt-lick in the forest: this is the one place on earth where large congregations of babirusa gather and where their extraordinary ‘boxing’ behavior.”
In addition to the babirusa, the forest also contains populations of the threatened dwarf buffalo, the anoa; the tiny nocturnal primate, the spectral tarsier; and the crested macaque.
However, despite being under legal protection, the Nantu forest is still threatened. Clayton says that the biggest threat is illegal gold mining, which is “poisoning the watershed” used by 15,000 villagers downstream. In addition, illegal deforestation and poaching remain concerns.
Lynn Clayton with forest rangers. Photo courtesy of Clayton.
Since achieving legal protection of the Nantu forest Clayton and local collaborators have set up a number of innovative programs including planting tens of thousands of trees as a buffer zone between the forest and villages and creating a children’s book to highlight the babirusa.
Clayton says that the key to longterm protection of Nantu is “facilitating first hand experience of rainforest biodiversity by local school-children, students and other stakeholders.”
In a December 2010 interview Lynn Clatyon spoke with mongabay.com about the strange babirusa, the richness of the Nantu forests, and creative programs to keep it safe.
Click to enlarge
An interview with Lynn Clayton
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com: What brought you to Sulawesi and led you to start your project?
I first came to Sulawesi whilst an undergraduate at Oxford University. I was awarded a scholarship to spend one year (1986) in Sulawesi collecting data for “The Ecology of Sulawesi” book (The Ecology of Sulawesi, 1987, A.J. Whitten and M. Mustofa). The brief was to gather ecological data from the parts of Sulawesi about which very little was known. So I spent a wonderful year traveling alone throughout Sulawesi conducting small research projects on bats, underwater plants, seagrasses and forests.
Nantu Patrol find adult male babirusa caught in poachers snare. Poacher is prosecuted with YANI support.
Dr Lynn Clayton Pioneering Conservation of the Nantu Forest
Red-knobbed hornbills and crested macaque
After four years fieldwork at Paguyaman, Dr. Clayton was awarded her doctorate from Oxford University on the Ecology and Conservation of the Babirusa. She returned immediately to Paguyaman, her objective to work on conservation of the whole Nantu/Paguyaman Forest ecosystem. This work has included pioneering alternative approaches to protecting Sulawesi’s highly endangered rain forests: Nantu Protection Unit patrols have halted illegal logging within the Nantu reserve, stopped babirusa poaching and prevented slash-and-burn destruction of Nantu. Educational programs have included children’s study visits to the forest reserve, Nantu scholarships program and live Conservation concerts. At the same time, 34,000 cocoa and 8000 teak trees, grown in community nurseries, have been handed over to settlers living immediately outside the reserve to provide livelihood assistance. Dr. Clayton and her team have worked with several national and international television crews, including BBC, NHK Japan and Indonesian Metro TV to document the story of Nantu. Fluent in the Indonesian language, Bahasa, Dr. Clayton has been the recipient of an unprecedented three awards from the British government’s “Darwin Initiative” program. Her publications range from “Bringing Home the Bacon”, a detailed scientific model of the illegal trade in babirusa meat, to “The Special Place in the Forest”, an illustrated children’s storybook about the babirusa in Bahasa. Her team founded the NGO “YANI” in 2002 as a local vehicle to carry forward the Nantu vision.
Livelihood Assistance: sharing 3 month old cocoa seedlings at Tangga village near Nantu.
During that time I fell in love with Sulawesi and its extraordinary endemic and unstudied “Wallacean” wildlife, and resolved to return here after graduation. Alfred Russel Wallace a century before had written of Sulawesi’s wildlife: “it is yet wonderfully rich in peculiar forms… in some cases absolutely unique upon the globe”. I returned to Sulawesi in 1988 to study perhaps the most unique of Sulawesi’s “peculiar forms”, the curly tusked Babirusa, for my masters and doctorate degrees. This work focussed on the ecology and conservation biology of the Babirusa, Sulawesi’s endangered and enigmatic pig/hippo, which lives only in rainforest, at the Nantu Forest in northern Sulawesi.
This was through an old French hunter (Maurice Patry, now dead) who, since the age of 12 years old, had dreamt of seeing a babirusa in the wild. He made thirteen visits to Sulawesi before he found the Nantu Forest. At the start of my PhD I went to see him in Paris, stayed in his flat near the 9th bridge, and slept on the sofa. Waking up in the middle of the night I looked up to see tiger heads and other hunting trophies all around me – a bit eerie! Maurice did not want to tell me the location of Nantu as it had taken him so long to find. Instead he gave me a few clues (names of people) so I went to Sulawesi and followed the “hunter’s trail” he had set. Finally after several months a local hunter accompanied me to Nantu and the Adudu salt-lick.
The babirusa weighs up to one hundred kilograms and adult males have four tusks, the upper two growing vertically up through the skin of the snout, which have long fascinated observers. Locating a study site was a considerable challenge. After six months fruitless searches through Sulawesi, hunters finally guided me to Paguyaman, named for its massive river and home of the forest-living “polahi” people who live at the foot of its jagged mountains. Like Wallace a century before I traveled by wooden boat, slept in remote palm huts and spent long hours “perched on platforms in trees” awaiting a sighting of the elusive babirusa. Occasionally results were spectacular as when I observed 44 babirusa together on the Adudu salt-lick at Nantu. After almost four years fieldwork studying the babirusa in remote and challenging conditions – the only access to Nantu is by longboat a journey of half a day upriver over rapids, while floods, earthquakes, malaria and encounters with 7 meter pythons were quite frequent hazards – I completed my doctorate at Oxford University. This was the first ever long-term study of the ecology of the babirusa in the wild. The illegal poaching and rain forest destruction I observed during this time led me and my team of local colleagues to implement anti-poaching checkpoints and to campaign for formal protection of the Nantu/Paguyaman forest. After completion of my doctorate I returned immediately to Paguyaman, my objective to work on conservation of the whole Nantu/Paguyaman ecosytem. It was only after two decades of my life spent in the region known as “Wallacea” that I learned I was born in the same Sussex village where, more than a century before, Alfred Russell Wallace had spent months writing his famous book “The Malay Archipelago”!
mongabay.com: Could you describe your current project?
Long term field staff Jemi Komolontang (left) and Yotje Mamahit (right) on a Dracontomelum dao tree.
The overall goal of the current project is to conserve the 62,000 hectare Nantu Rainforest in Gorontalo Province, northern Sulawesi. Nantu is the last stronghold on earth of the Babirusa pig (whose wild population totals around 5000 individuals) and is of international importance for Sulawesi’s other endangered wildlife, including the rare Anoa (an endemic dwarf buffalo), a locally endemic species of macaque and the large eyed Spectral Tarsier. Nantu is one of Sulawesi’s few remaining pristine rainforest ecosystems; it comprises 33,000 hectares of Wildlife Reserve (formally gazetted by the Indonesian government in 1999), while the remainder is a combination of forest currently classified as Protection Forest (19,000 ha) and Production Forest (10,000 ha). Nantu has been described as “one of the top five best sites for biodiversity in South-East Asia” by visiting scientists. More than a hundred species of birds have been recorded here, of which 35 species are endemic. These include two species of hornbill. Particularly unique about Nantu is a large natural salt-lick in the forest: this is the one place on earth where large congregations of babirusa gather and where their extraordinary “boxing” behavior, in which adult males rear up on their hind legs and joust, can be observed.
Key project activities are:
- forest protection: the Nantu Protection Unit, an innovative biodiversity protection unit, is continuously present patrolling the Nantu forest. It comprises six local assistants working alongside four special forces police. Operational at Nantu throughout the last ten years, its achievements include halting illegal logging, slash-and-burn clearance and wildlife poaching at Nantu. Prior to its establishment ten rafts of illegal timber (40m3) were extracted from the Nantu watershed daily and seventeen babirusa and two anoa per week were trapped by hunters around the salt-lick. This unit is preventing destruction of the unique “Adudu” salt-lick. Three natural salt-licks formerly occurred within the Paguyaman watershed. Today only one remains, the other two, which were outside the boundary of the Nantu reserve, have been destroyed.
- climate care: establishing Nantu as a “demonstration forest” of low cost, high impact “avoided deforestation” and climate care education for Indonesia.
- education: establishing Nantu as an international and local centre for rain forest education and research. A field training centre has been constructed at Nantu, where regular conservation training workshops and field study visits for local community, religious leaders, school-teachers and students are being carried out.
- community development: livelihood assistance to local communities, including income-generating activities (tree-planting and agricultural assistance), village-based hydro-electricity, health clinics, and legal advocacy assistance.
- awareness and capacity building: carrying out an extensive local biodiversity awareness program, including live “Conservation Concerts” by local Gorontalonese entertainers, village ecology libraries and a “Café Nantu” resource and awareness centre. The project also seeks to support local and national Indonesian scientists through financial, logistic and academic support for MSc. and PhD studies in Conservation Biology.
Distributing calenders promoting the Nantu Forest Reserve boundary to local settlers.
- school’s program: implementing Nantu study visits, environmental education teaching, Nantu Forest scholarships (providing secondary education to local children) and development of conservation curriculum materials. A series of illustrated children’s story books, building on the success of “The Special Place in the Forest” (see below), about the Red-Knobbed Hornbill and Spectral Tarsier are planned.
- community-based forest management: pioneering village-based participatory management initiatives, including village guard posts, a Nantu stakeholder forum and reserve boundary protection posts.
- wildlife trade: the project’s mobile anti-poaching unit is active against Sulawesi’s illegal wildlife trade. Trapped in string leg-snares the legally protected babirusa are transported hundreds of miles from forest areas to meat markets. The project’s anti-poaching unit is implementing 24-hour checkpoints along major roads, awareness campaigns to hunters and dealers and is working with local judiciary, police and hunters to prevent extinction of the babirusa from this trade.
Progress achieved over the last decade includes:
- campaigning for formal protection of Nantu, resulting in it being gazetted as a protected area by the Indonesian government (31,000 hectares) in 1997 and spear-heading local legislation to protect Nantu in the provincial parliament.
- conducting extensive anti-poaching operations throughout northern Sulawesi, resulting in reduction of the illegal trade in babirusa meat from 15 babirusa per week (1991) to one babirusa per week (2007) sold in local markets.
- generating international and national publicity for Nantu through television documentaries filmed there (including “The Life of Mammals” by Sir David Attenborough, Indonesian national television, NHK Japan and French TF1, copies widely distributed to local stakeholders).
- implementing more than fifty special habitat protection operations in collaboration with local authorities against illegal loggers and forest clearers.
- buffer zone tree-planting, specifically 8000 teak trees and 34,000 cocoa trees handed over to local farmers living around the Nantu Reserve.
- Establishment of the local NGO “Yayasan Adudu Nantu Internasional/The Adudu Nantu International Foundation for Conservation” in 2002.
- creation of a children’s story book about the babirusa called “The Special Place in the Forest (“5000 copies distributed to local school-children living around the Nantu forest).
mongabay.com: What are the current threats?
Wildlife department staff survey burned area outside boundary of Nantu Forest.
One can look at what surrounds the Nantu refuge to see its future if nothing is done. Vast abandoned sugar cane plantations stretch along the banks of the Paguyaman river for kilometers downstream of Nantu. Land once richly forested by tropical forests, with massive dipterocarp trees soaring 40 meters high, are cleared or degraded by decades of unchecked industrial logging. The line between Nantu and the degraded land that surrounds is stark – sometimes literally a clear line beyond which trees and vegetation are scarce.
The main threat to Nantu at the current time is from illegal gold mining. Several hundred miners currently operate deep inside the Nantu Forest, poisoning the watershed by their use of mercury. Some 15,000 villagers downstream depend on the Paguyaman/Nantu watershed for their only water-supply. Illegal logging, slash-and-burn clearance and illegal wildlife poaching are also threats to Nantu.
mongabay.com: Do you see much hunting?
Paguyaman River and Boliyohuto Mountains.
As a result of the project’s intensive forest protection patrols described above illegal poaching at the Nantu Forest has largely ceased. However continued vigilance is necessary against leg-snares set by hunters at Nantu. Sulawesi-wide small numbers of babirusa continue to be purchased by some rogue dealers and sold at Langowan market near Manado in North Sulawesi.
mongabay.com: What are the biggest challenges to conservation in the area?
Low awareness amongst all sectors of society of the importance of saving forests. This results primarily from a lack of educational materials highlighting this subject.
mongabay.com: Is the reserve a National Park? If not what are some of the concerns about converting it into one?
No the area’s current status is not National Park, but rather Wildlife Reserve, plus some Protection and Production Forest. Plans are ongoing to upgrade Nantu to National Park status.
mongabay.com: Is there any potential for carbon finance (REDD) to help fund the reserve and create alternative livelihoods?
Yes, there is great potential for carbon finance to support conservation of the Nantu Forest. Early assessments indicate the Nantu Forest area stores over thirteen million tons of biomass carbon.
mongabay.com: What are your thoughts on the Norway-Indonesia REDD partnership? Is it having a positive impact on forest conservation in Indonesia?
Tangga school, Paguyaman: National Trans TV crew, Project field staff and school-children filming “The Young Explorer at Nantu” television programme.
I fully support any efforts that aim to protect Indonesia’s forests. I think it is too early to assess the impact of this partnership on conservation of Indonesia’s forests.
mongabay.com: What are key to protecting wildlife in Paguyaman/Nantu and other reserves in Indonesia?
Facilitating first hand experience of rainforest biodiversity by local school-children, students and other stakeholders.
Effective forest law enforcement implemented within forest reserves.
mongabay.com: How can people abroad help your efforts?
Funds to support this work are always much needed, and are spent directly at ground level to protect the Nantu Forest. We are also currently seeking to establish a Nantu Trust Fund in order to secure long-term financial sustainability for this work.
If you’d like to support the Nantu Forest Conservation Program, please contact Lynn Clayton
(12/06/2010) More species are threatened with extinction in Indonesia than any other country on Earth. If we are to save them, it will take more protected areas, radical shifts in deforestation, and better anti-poaching efforts, but in many cases it will also take species-specific conservation efforts that work directly with local people. The Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AITo) is a model organization for this method, founder Marcy Summers describes it as ‘very small, community-based, and efficient, with very low overhead.’ By focusing on the wonderfully bizarre maleo, a ground-dwelling bird on the island of Sulawesi, the organization has succeeded in protecting a vital nesting area while initiating a moratorium on the egg-harvesting, which once devastated the species.
(01/06/2008) Little-known Sulawesi may be the world’s most strangely shaped island: with four large peninsulas jutting outward, the island could either resemble a mangled lower-case ‘k’ or an upside-down emaciated mermaid—depending on one’s perspective. However when Dr. Charles Cannon states that the island is “one of the most unique spots on Earth”, he is not referring to Sulawesi’s shape but its ecology.
(06/28/2007) Roughly 80 percent of Sulawesi’s richest forests have been degraded and destroyed for agriculture, logging, and mining, reports a ground-breaking assessment of the Indonesian island’s forests.
(03/20/2007) A new study on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia confirms the critical importance of fig trees to the rainforest ecosystem. The research has implications for wildlife conservation in an area of high rates of forest loss from agricultural conversion and logging.