Grand Forest Park Bukit Barisan
The Bukit Barisan Forest Park lies 59 km from Medan in the district of the Karo Batak. The park (50,000 ha), formerly named Tahura Bukit Barisan was renovated in 1989 and renamed Grand Forest Park Bukit Barisan. An other often heared name is Arboretum Tongkoh Berastagi.
As the name implies, the park is a forest protection area. A zoological museum, a little zoo and a summer-house with Karo Batak ornaments are also part of the park.
You’ll enter the park through the little village of Tongkoh, 7 km from Brastagi.
o Many possibilities
|Latitude : 5 9 0 S Logitude : 104 0 0 E|
Altitude : 0 to 1964 metres
Area : 356800 ha Wetlands: 0 ha
Legislation : SK Mentan No 736/Mentan/X/1982, 14-10-1982.
Tenure : Government of Indonesia
This is the second largest reserve in Sumatra and includes swamp grassland, Nypa forest, freshwater swamp forest, hill diptocarp forest and montane elements. Over 70% of the reserve, which sits on rich volcanic strata, is classified as lowland forest. Along the coastline, the park supports myriad coastal habitats, including sandy, rocky, coral and muddy substrate. In the north, the park contains areas with slopes of 20-80 degrees; in the south, the land becomes flatter with a few fairly high hills and swamps in areas close to the beach. The area includes a complete coverage of Southern Sumatran fauna. Both timber companies and illegal settlements currently threaten the park. Roads cut the area into many small fragments. Principal vegetation: Mangrove forest, freshwater swamp and peatswamp, swampy grasslands. The lowland forests are characterized by typical Dipterocarp genera such as Shorea, Dipterocarpus, Arctocarpus, Hopea, Agathis and Durio.
The park lies in the wettest part of Sumatra, running down the southern end of the Barisan moutain range.
|Orang Pendek (Indonesian for “short person”) is the most common name given to a cryptid, or unconfirmed animal, that reportedly inhabits remote, mountainous forests on the island of Sumatra.|
The animal has allegedly been seen and documented for at least one hundred years by forest tribes, local villagers, Dutch colonists, and Western scientists and travelers. Consensus among witnesses is that the animal is a ground-dwelling, bipedal primate that is covered in short fur and stands between 80 centimetres (31 in) and 150 centimetres (59 in) tall
|It has a man’s face and a gorilla’s torso. Officially, it doesn’t exist, but try telling that to the people who’ve met it. Debbie Martyr reports.|
Video: Debbie Martyr
Debbie Martyr describes encountering an Orang Pendek
High on a mountainside in West Sumatra are a number of remarkably deep holes in the rich, dark volcanic earth. Disguised with leaves the 2m-deep pits are surrounded by bait of fruit and vegetables. They are traps for an animal the scientific establishment does not yet accept exists — a small, hairy, ape-like biped known, in the mountainous jungles of the Kerinci Seblat, as orang pendek or short man.
Rustam, the headman of Selempaung, the village in the valley below, does not want to catch an orang pendek for science. He has a more personal motive. It is called ‘making a point’. He is, he says, fed up with being told by visitors to the 13,000 sq. km Kerinci Seblat National Park that there is no such thing as orang pendek.
Have you seen this hominid? ‘Identikit’ picture — drawn by a WWF artist from several independent, but very consistent descriptions of the Sumatran orang pendek — show an ape that many of the forest villagers consider an ordinary part of their local natural history. They seem genuinely puzzled when other people fail to believe them.
Now Rustam is out to prove that the orang pendek does exist. For Rustam is not the only native of the Kerinci highlands to claim to have seen the small, ape-like biped or to be confused because nobody appears to believe him. A four-week visit to Kerinci earlier this year uncovered, in villages miles apart, literally dozens of witnesses who describe seeing a small, hairy, ape-like creature both in the forest and in fields on the edges of the jungle. From the foothills of the 3,800m active volcano which gives the Kerinci Seblat National Park its name to Curup, 50Okm south, the descriptions of the animal are virtually identical.
The orang pendek, say villagers, averages just under one metre high, is immensely strong with broad shoulders and short legs and is covered in short, dark grey hair. It is, witnesses insist, quite unlike any of the eight species of primate known to exist in the Kerinci jungles. It is not, they will add, a man. It is simply orang pendek, and it’s no mysterious flash in the zoological pan. It has been repeatedly seen by both local people and by Europeans for at least a century.
In the wake of a series of highly publicised ‘sightings’ by Dutch settlers in the 1920s and accounts in Bernard Heuvelmans’ cryptozoological classic On the Track of Unknown Animals, repeated expeditions were mounted by young bloods armed with shotguns and a thirst for making their scientific reputations.
None was successful in trapping an orang pendek. They did succeed, however, in shooting innumerable honeybears and sunbears which had the misfortune to be misidentified in the dim jungle light. And when, in 1924, the national museum in Bogor obtained the cast of an ‘orang pendek track’, it was rapidly identified as that of a Malay sunbear — an animal which often stands on its hind legs.
The scientists, already sceptical, prepared to write the orang pendek’s obituary. Their chance came eight years later when, in response to a posted reward, the body of an animal alleged to be a juvenile orang pendek was dispatched to the national zoology museum in Bogor, Java.
The discovery made headline news — for about 48 hours, the time it took for the mysterious corpse to be identified as an adult langur monkey whose body had been carefully altered by a group of enterprising locals hoping to claim the reward.
The hoax dealt a death blow to any serious scientific interest in the orang pendek, which was pronounced a myth, no more. Unfortunately, nobody told the orang pendek — or the villagers and hunters of Kerinci who have continued, unashamedly, to report sightings of the animal.
And not just in south-western Sumatra. In the mid-eighties, some 2,500km north, in the Malay state of Sabah in northern Borneo, John MacKinnon, who had recently discovered a new species of ox in Vietnam, came across tracks of the animal known, locally, as ‘Batutut’. He reports that the prints were “so like man’s, yet so definitely not a man’s that my skin crept. . . the prints were roughly triangular in shape, about 15cm long by 1Ocm across. The toes looked quite human, as did the shapely heel but the sole was both too short and too broad to be that of a man and the big toe was on the opposite side to what seemed to be the arch of the foot.”
Finally, in May this year, I returned to Sumatra to collect and collate reported orang pendek sightings. The first shock came within hours of my arrival in the small market town of Sungeipenuh, which acts as a central point for the administration of the Kerinci Seblat National Park. In 1989, questions about the orang pendek and any suggestion that the animal might be based on fact were greeted with reactions ranging from polite disbelief to open hilarity. Times have changed in Sumatra. The officials of the Kerinci Seblat have become, if not converts to the orang pendek cause, then at least openly curious about the animal.
Pak Mega Harianto, director of the park, admitted, “We now have too many sightings, from all over the national park. It is always the same animal.. Always the same description. I think there is a strong possibility that we have an unknown animal here.” What had been planned as a gentle working holiday turned into a marathon session of interviews in a dozen villages up to 100 miles apart. The interviews were disturbing: the reports were so prosaic, so relatively detailed — and so similar.
And slowly, over a period of five weeks, a picture began to emerge of an animal that appears zoologically possible. The orang pendek of the nineties is small, usually no more than 85 or 90cm in height — although occasionally as large as 1m 20cm. The body is covered in a coat of dark grey or black flecked with grey hair.
But it is the sheer physical power of the orang pendek that most impresses the Kerinci villagers. They speak in awe, of its broad shoulders, huge chest and upper abdomen and powerful aims. The animal is so strong, the villagers would whisper that it can uproot small trees and even break rattan vines.
The legs, in comparison, are short and slim, the feet neat and small, usually turned out at an angle of up to 45 degrees. The head slopes back to a distinct crest — similar to the gorilla — and there appears to be a bony ridge above the eyes. But the mouth is small and neat, the eyes are set wide apart and the nose is distinctly humanoid. When frightened, the animal exposes its teeth — revealing oddly broad incisors and prominent, long canine teeth.
There were no tales of a ‘gibbering ape’ such as those related, with relish, to British writer Benedict Allen in his book Hunting the Gugu. The only sound reported was a low growling or coughing. Pak Sukianto Lusli, co-ordinator of the WWF Field Office in Kerinci, reports that the animal also makes a chirruping sound.
And always, whether seen in villagers’ ladang fields at the edge of the jungle or in the jungle itself, the animal is seen walking upright. Even when frightened and fleeing human contact, the animal does not revert to four legs — nor does it climb into trees to make its escape.
Every time witnesses were interviewed, they were also asked to choose possible candidates from a selection of photographs and illustrations of known Asian — and African — primates. It did not help a lot. The villagers ignored pictures of siamang gibbons or orang-utans, which seem the obvious candidates — though orang-utans are not known in the Kerinci Seblat. Only when they came across photographs of a sitting gorilla was there a positive reaction.
The cranium was pronounced all but identical but the face was, they said quite wrong. “Orang pendek,” I was told, “is more handsome than this animal. Orang pendek’s face is more like people.” The upper arms, at least, were considered accurate, as were the chest and shoulders. The legs also met with some approval but the feet were “wrong.”
Villagers repeatedly commented that the gorilla was, quite clearly a monkey, Orang pendek, they explained, was not a monkey — even though not a man. A silhouette of a gorilla met, however, with universal approval and cries of “That’s it, that’s more like it.” It was the national parks office that made the final proposal: that we should invite a few of the most credible witnesses into town and ask them to describe the animal to a WWF wildlife artist.
They started to arrive in mid-morning from their outlying villages, glancing around themselves for reassurance in their urban surroundings. As the day continued, more and more national parks officers gathered around as the ‘identikits’ took shape. Repeatedly, even though each witness had been carefully separated, the artist found himself drawing what was quite clearly, the same animal.
A week later, I found myself chatting to a policeman who mentioned he had seen a pair of orang pendeks in the jungle some months earlier. I presented him with a the file of possible candidates.
He flicked through, paused when he came across the gorilla, and commented on the skull, shoulders and abdomen. Nodded sagely at the silhouette. Continued to flick through the photographs and illustrations. Then stopped when he reached the WWF artist’s composite drawn from the individual interviews. “That’s orang pendek,” he said casually, “although it looks a pretty thin one to me. The one I saw had bigger shoulders and a fatter chest.