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.
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.
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.
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.