Riau Tesso Nilo National Park

Riau Sumatra

Tesso Nilo National Park

Click to Enlarge !


Click to Enlarge !


Click to Enlarge !


Click to Enlarge !


 Click to Enlarge !


The Tesso Nilo Forest, in Riau Province, Sumatra, is one of the island’s largest remaining forest tracts and home to an increasingly threatened elephant population. Government surveys together with WWF-Indonesia show that there may be only 350 elephants left in the whole Riau province, and 60 – 80 of them may live in Tesso Nilo. Thus, Tesso Nilo appears to be the most important elephant habitat left in Riau.
Tesso Nilo may also be one of the richest forests on earth in terms of biodiversity. The Center for Biodiversity Management has surveyed over 1,800 plots in tropical forests around the world. They found that no other plot has as many vascular plants as in Tesso Nilo. Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) surveyed forests throughout Sumatra, and also found that Tesso Nilo housed by far the most species.
The richness and beauty of Tesso Nilo’s natural heritage is also under serious threat – currently two giant pulp and paper mills are operating within this landscape, and WWF-Indonesia investigation reveals that a significant portion of the wood feeding these mills originate from illegally logged sources. Illegal logging includes logging by legitimate operators who violate their contracts, as well as logging by people who have no legal right to extract timber. This timber finds its way to legal and illegal saw mills – of which there are at least 47 existing currently in Tesso Nilo.
Illegal logging causes the country a total loss of over 51 million cubic meters of wood a year. The demand for plywood reaches 63 million cubic meters a year, but legal logging can only provide 12 million cubic meters. Economic losses from illegal logging reach Rp US$4 billion annually, in addition to the loss of human life and property from the floods and landslides that follow illegal logging and deforestation.
This highlights the fact that illegal logging is one of the greatest threats to Tesso Nilo conservation. Recent satellite images reveal the speed by which land clearing of natural forest has been happening in Tesso Nilo. Furthermore palm oil plantations are also expanding into the areas rapidly, some of which belong to local communities. Modern industrialization and poverty interact dynamically in this landscape, resulting in forest clearing through illegal logging, loss of livelihood, human-elephant conflicts, as well as flooding and landslides in the rainy seasons.
WWF-Indonesia’s Goal in Tesso Nilo is to help create a well-managed national park, capable of supporting 200 elephants, and the corridor to Rimbang Baling Game Reserve is still forested and secure from further conversion by 2010. The task is not an easy one. WWF- Indonesia has discovered that effective protection of this diverse forest requires negotiating and working directly with a diverse range of stakeholders, including multi-national paper companies, local and national governments, and local communities.
The challenge also lies in the fact that in working to save Tesso Nilo, WWF Indonesia has also to bear in mind the integrity of the landscape and its precious species as well as the well being of local communities. A mix of approaches are being used – from efforts to promote environmentally and socially responsible company policies, advocating for protection of the landscape at all government levels, empowering communities to manage natural resources in a sustainable way and helping to build their local economies, to promoting landscaping solutions when addressing human-elephant conflicts.



September 14, 2008
New hope for Sumatra’s elephants and tigers as Indonesia doubles size of key national park

The government of Indonesia has declared its commitment to enlarging the most suitable block of forest for Sumatran elephants, expanding the vital Tesso Nilo National Park on Sumatra island to 86,000 hectares.

“This is an important milestone toward securing a future for the Sumatran elephant and tiger,” said Dr. Mubariq Ahmad, WWF-Indonesia’s Chief Executive. “To ensure that the commitment is effectively implemented, we must redouble our efforts on the ground to eliminate poaching and illegal settlements within this special forest.”

Tesso Nilo is one of the last havens of endangered Sumatran elephants and critically endangered Sumatran tigers. With more than 4,000 plant species recorded so far, the forest of Tesso Nilo has the highest lowland forest plant biodiversity known to science,with many species yet to be discovered.

Tesso Nilo National Park was created in 2004 in RiauProvince, but only 38,000 hectares of forest were included. With today’s declaration, the government of Indonesiais to extend the national park into 86,000 ha by Dec 2008 and integrate an additional 18,812 ha into the national park management area of 100,000 ha.

WWF has been supporting the government effort to extend and protect the park as the last block of lowland forest in central Sumatralarge enough to support a viable elephant population. About 60 to 80 elephants are estimated to live there, along with 50 tigers.

Tesso Nilo forest is also an important watershed for more than 40,000 people living in the surrounding 22 villages.

“Tesso Nilo is still under serious threat from illegal activities, but if we can protect the forests there, it will give some of Sumatra’s most endangered wildlife the breathing room they need to survive,” Dr Ahmad said.

“And while we greatly appreciate this precedent for more protection from the Indonesian government, there are other areas on Sumatrathat need safeguarding for the sake of its wildlife, its threatened indigenous peoples and to reduce the climate impacts of clearing.”

WWF helped establish and supports the Tesso Nilo Community Forum, run by all 22 local communities living in the buffer zone of the national park. The forum supports joint actions to protect the Tesso Nilo forest and gives the communities a unified and more influential voice in park management.

WWF is working with local communities that suffer from human-wildlife conflict as a result of disappearing forests in the province. Hundreds of elephants have died in the last few years.

A successful Elephant Flying Squad uses domesticated elephants and mahouts to keep wild elephants inside the park from raiding village crops outside the park. WWF also promotes the planting of buffer crops that are not attractive to elephants.

“WWF is committed for finding solutions for Sumatra’s people and wildlife and the global environment,” Dr Ahmad said. “This is where the focus should be, rather than on the narrower
interests of global pulp and palm oil conglomerates.”


Tesso Nilo National Park is a national park in Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. It was declared a national park by the Indonesian government in 2004. The original area of the park was 385,76 km², but the decision has been made to expand it to 1000 km². Tesso Nilo National Park houses some of the largest coherent lowland rainforests remaining on Sumatra. The Center for Biodiversity Management has surveyed over 1,800 plots in tropical forests around the world. They found that no other plot has as many vascular plants as in Tesso Nilo. Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) surveyed forests throughout Sumatra, and also found that Tesso Nilo housed by far the most species.

Flora and fauna

Critically Endangered Sumatran Elephants and Sumatran Tigers live here.

Conservation and threats

The park suffers heavy encroachment from illegal loggers and illegal settlers who clear the park for crops and palm oil plantations, as well as village sites. Already, 28,600 hectares, or about a third of the park, has been deforested. Even when the park was being established, wood was delivered illegally to Indah Kiat paper mill. The paper industry firm that owns the paper mill received millions of US$ from European credit agencies, including the German Hermes. In November 2009, WWF announced that the park had finally been expanded by 44,492 hectares  but encroachment still remains a serious problem. During drought periods, the forest is susceptible to wildfires. In the October 2006 fires, 1 km² of the park was burnt. According to 2009 WWF survey, the population of Sumatran elephants had reached 200 in the park, and around 350 elephant in Riau Province.

Elephant Conservation Centre

The Belgian government committed to provide 200,000 euros in assistance for the construction of a Sumatran elephant conservation centre in the Tesso Nilo National Park, with the first quarter to be disbursed in 2011. The project will fund the relocation of dozens of tame elephants from Minas in Siak district, to Tesso Nilo. The relocation was justified by the loss of habitat in Minas due to oil palm plantations and oil mining.

In 2012, the elephant population in the park is estimated 120 to 150 elephants through samples of elephant dropping. For three months, starting late of June, Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) of elephants’s faeces are being conducted to get the actual number of elephants.



Tesso Nilo National Park is in central Sumatra’s Riau province in Indonesia.

Created in 2004 to help preserve Sumatran tigers and Asiatic elephants, development of tourism within the park is still in its infancy.

Note: this article is in an early stage of development. I visited Tesso Nilo National Park in late November and early December, and I anticipate finishing this article before the end of December.

In the past 25 years, approximately 2/3 of the jungle that covered most of the Riau province was destroyed by logging and then converted into tree farms or oil palm plantations. As a response to those who are concerned about the jungle, the park was created in 2004, and its size more than doubled in 2007.

Ongoing threats to the park include illegal logging, illegal conversion of land into oil palm plantations and wild elephant killing by villagers living on the park boundary.


In 2004 Indonesia created the park , and more than doubled its size in 2007.

The people of Air Hitam have a history of opposing the park and its purposes. In 2008 people from the village burned a ranger vehicle due to anger at the restrictions placed on their activities by the park. In late November 2010, 5 wild elephants were killed at Air Hitam, despite ongoing education efforts and the work of the Flying Squad elephant patrol.

In late November 2010, a two day major operation involving around 300 police, rangers and military personnel resulted in clearing from the park many of the oil palms recently planted there illegally.


Tesso Nilo contains some tropical lowland forest, and it also contains land that was used as production forest and oil palm plantations but that is now being allowed to revert back to jungle.

 Flora and fauna

Elephant near Camp Flying Squad at Tesso Nilo National Park

Fauna include the Sumatran tiger, Asian elephant, Malayan tapir, medium-sized primates, deer, large monitor lizards and pigs.

The WWF estimates the tiger population is around 50, while the elephant population is between 60 to 80.

Despite degradation of even the best jungle within the park, its flora displays the highest vascular plant  diversity of anywhere in the world, including the Amazon regions.

Many 200 square meter plots of forest when surveyed yielded more than 200 species each, and more than 4,000 species of plants have already been found within the park. Botanists anticipate that a number of species unknown to science live in the park, as well.

 Get in

By plane

If you are coming from outside of Sumatra, you may fly into Pekanbaru.

From there, go to the WWF headquarters. Along with tours, they may be able to arrange passage for you to the park.

By bus

No regular bus service to either the park or the cities and villages near it exists, although bus By motorbike

Park headquarters is in Kerinci Pelalawan in Riau, about 5 hours by motorbike from Pekanbaru. Their telephone number is (061) 0761 494 728.

To get to the park from the headquarters requires 2 1/2 to 3 hours of travel down a dirt logging road that now passes through large tracts of oil palm plantations and tree farms, as well as cleared jungle awaiting conversion.


You will need a permit signed by the head of Tesso Nilo National Park, and you will have to be accompanied by a ranger.

The permit will cost about 45,000 rupiah.

You will pass through two military check-points on the way in, requiring the letter and the ranger.


  • The observation tower – Located near Camp Flying Squad in the north central part of the park, climbing the tower can give you a great for getting a good overview of the park and provide a magnificent vantage point for seeing sunsets and sunrises.
  • Animal tracks, signs and homes – Fresh tracks from wild tigers are frequently seen near Camp Flying Squad. In other parts of the park, rangers will probably be able to locate tracks made by Malayan tapir, wild pigs and deer. You might also see trees that have been clawed by hungry Malayan sun bears seeking food. Large mud mounds constructed as homes by ants, as well as hive-like mud structures about six feet high smaller trees, may be readily seen within the park.
  • Primates – A species of larger primates live along a small waterway in a remnant forest near the main ranger station where visitors stay, and one may spot them in the morning and in the evening. One may also walk through that section of the park. As you drive through the park with the rangers, there is also a good chance of spotting primates on the road and in the trees that were planted for tree farms before the creation of the park.
  • Silang (wild honey trees) – Sialang trees, from which locals sustainably harvest wild honey, grown in and around the park. Depending on what part of the month one visits, watching a sialang ceremony conducted by local people prior to climbing sialang and gathering honey may be possible. See below for more.


The Nilo River near the park

  • Riding on an elephant – as a part of a patrol by the Flying Squad is possible for 150,000 rupiah.
  • Boat Trip – Charter a boat for 300,000 rupiah to go up the Nilo River to just past where it joins with the Tesso River. The rangers and guide indicate that part of the jungle is the most intact in the park.
  • Honey Gathering Ceremony – You may be able to arrange to see a ceremony that local people do before sustainably harvesting honey from sialang (wild honey trees). The ceremony includes casting of shadows of the hands and head of prospective climbers. If the shadow of one’s hand shows only four digits or if one’s head is not connected to the rest of one’s body, one is not allowed to climb the tree and harvest the honey.


Purchase sustainably harvested honey from sialang (honey trees) at Lubuk Kemgang Bunga, a small village near the park, or at WWF headquarters in Pekanbaru.

You may also purchase the honey directly from the WWF web site.


The only lodging in the park is the central ranger station.

Kerinci Pelalawan, the town with the park headquarters, has a number of hotels, including the Hotel Melanti where we got a room with a double bed, cable TV and air conditioning for 150,000 rupiah per night. They also have laundry service, but it is very expensive.


Camping in the park’s backcountry can be arranged for as many days as one might wish.


Trips into the backcountry with a guide, who has guided professional biologists and others on extensive treks, may be arranged.

Stay safe

Tigers, bears and elephants are the largest animals in the park.

Tigers have killed people on Sumatra in recent years, so be sure to stay with the rangers and local guide.

It’s a Mahout Love Story

Oleh Annisa RuzuarTesso-Nilo-04-bride-01  

Great news’s coming from Riau. Last Sunday (12/2) two of Flying Squad team mahouts patrolling in Tesso Nilo held their wedding ceremony. Fikri Pohan and Evatma Dewi, met when they were both mahouts for the team. Their shared love for the elephant brought the couple together, “we were starting as friends, and fell in love as we often went to patrol together. She is a lovely and helpful girl, with a beautiful smile I can’t resist,” said the groom Fikri.

As the elephants brought them together in the first place, the gentle pachyderm became a central point of this unique ceremony. Unlike a normal wedding, Fikri rode an elephant to Evat’s house for the Ijab Kabul. A delightful moment happened, when the elephants bowed down to Fikri before letting him rode in its back. Even though he is used to the ride, as he has joined the squad since 2004, that ride felt special and endearing for him.

After he arrived in his bride to be Tesso-Nilo-04-bride-02house in Lubuk Kembang Bunga village, Fikri was accompanied by his family to say his oath. After the Ijab Kabul and both declared as husband and wive, the newlyweds came to the elephants that unite them. It was an endearing moment, but it soon change into a festivity as the newlyweds—dressed in Malayu Pelalawan traditional outfits—paraded through the village on the back of the brightly decorated elephant.

The idea of the unique wedding came from Syamsuardi, WWF-Indonesia’s Flying Squad Coordinator, “We want to give the newlyweds a memorable and priceless experience. We also want to show to people that elephant and human can live harmoniously.” For the procession, an extra preparation was required with the help of Fikri’s and Evat’s colleague. “A special preparation is required as the elephants will be in touch with massive crowds and loud noises. Thanks God, that everything goes well and everybody can share the happiness in this unique ceremony,” said Syamsuardi

We are all wishing you happily ever after life Fikri and Evat

Add Comment