Way Kambas National Park
Way Kambas is one of Indonesia’s smallest National Parks and comprises of an area of only 130,000 hectares. It is of great concern conservationally being one of the last remaining lowland rainforests in Sumatra and one of the few places where the endangered white-winged wood duck breeds. Elsewhere in Sumatra approximately 80% of the original rainforests have been logged and converted to grassland; this is something they can never recover from.
Sixty percent of Way Kambas was severely burnt during the 1997 El Nino droughts. Before this time about 36 adult tigers were in the locality and there were grave concerns at how they survived. Between Way Kambas and any other suitable tiger habitat is 100 miles of hostile land, so it is unlikely many tigers could have successfully left. Early research, after the fires, showed a population of about 20 tigers, but this has risen and the current population is thought to be 35-37.
Quite intensive tiger studies have been carried out at Way Kambas National Park and one surprise is that tiger numbers are actually higher than expected. The diet of these tigers also contains more monkeys than has been noted elsewhere. Ongoing work includes a plan to better identify individuals from camera trap images by using facial characteristics and stripes.
Way Kambas has a great many problems to deal with. It’s very close to quite major urban areas and around the park borders are high human populations. There is a great deal of conflict between tigers and humans, a situation which is likely to result in the death of the cats unless the problem can be addressed. Much of forest has been severely damaged by the human population, while little information has been gathered about the wildlife; most of what is known is still in the ‘educated guesswork’ category.
This park is best-known for its 300 plus population of wild Sumatran elephants and was, in fact, created to preserve this animal. These are often dangerous and represent yet another major problem. After becoming displaced by human encroachment, and the conversion of their habitat for agricultural use, the elephants persistently returned to trample crops and attack homes. Unsurprisingly, this caused a great deal of animosity from the villagers who pointed out they could not legally defend themselves against a protected species.
In the mid-1980s an elephant training programme was initiated in an attempt to provide some solution. This involved capturing surplus elephants and training them. Some are now provided to zoos and circuses, whereas other patrol to keep wild elephants away from human populations. Another group are used to provide tourism safari rides. There were plans to use trained elephants as replacements for logging machinery, but there is no sign this idea will develop further than a suggestion.
Despite its small size Way Kambas contains most of Sumatra’s wildlife, including rhino, sun bear, long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques, siamangs, agile gibbons, wild pigs, squirrels, clouded leopards, porcupines, monitor lizards, tapir, and over 300 species of bird, a number of these being endangered species.