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Bird and orchid sanctuary in Papua showcases the rich biodiversity of Indonesia

Wilderness area gets an eco-makeover
Orchid in Papua, Indonesia. CIFOR/Manuel Boissière

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Indonesia’s easternmost region of Papua arguably has the richest biodiversity in the country, offering potential for sustainable eco-tourism, eco-education and conservation opportunities. Situated primarily on the western half of the island of Papua New Guinea, its mostly intact forests, peatlands and other ecosystems are often considered the “last frontier” due to areas that scientists speculate are likely home to many unidentified species. The area also represents more than a third of Indonesia’s remaining intact forests.

As recently as 2018, a native species of orchid was discovered in Papua. Called Bulbophyllum irianae, it is named after Indonesia’s First Lady Iriana.

“The biodiversity potential is invaluable, we keep discovering new species,” said John Mampioper, head of the bird and orchid sanctuary on Biak Island.

The island features a diverse number of orchids, known for their fragile, often colorful blooms. Around 2,500 – or nearly half of the country’s species – can be found here. Some of the most spectacular are native to Papua, such as Paphiopedilum glanduliferum, Grammitis ceratocarpa, Grammitis coredrosora and Grammitis habbensis. One well-known species is the Irian giant orchid known as Grammatophyllum papuanuum.

Papua also provides a home for many unique bird species, a recent survey reporting around 716 observed on the island.

“Indonesia has 17 percent of the world’s biodiversity, about 50 per cent of it is in Papua, including Biak Island,” Mampioper said. “The huge biodiversity potential both in the forests and in the ocean should motivate us to develop more and more research in Papua.”

And yet, species and habitats are under threat due to deforestation, environmental damage, illegal hunting and trade. Despite the challenges, efforts have been undertaken by various actors to conserve endemic species through various means, one an off-site conservation park, which has existed for quite some time.

Biak’s bird and orchid sanctuary

The bird and orchid park on Biak island, known as Taman Burung and Taman Anggrek (TBTA Biak), was established by the Papua provincial government in the late 1980s as an effort to conserve the region’s biodiversity, especially birds and orchids endemic to Papua.

The park is located in a 28-hectare primary forest with well-protected flora and fauna. It functions as an off-site zone in an effort to conserve species outside their habitat managed by the Environment and Forestry Services of Papua province, while continuing onsite attempts to conserve and protect endemic plant and animal species. After its inauguration in 1990, a 5-hectare area was constructed as a sanctuary, while the remainder was left unmanaged.

Three decades after its establishment, the park manager and relevant actors identified a number of weaknesses, despite significant environmental services potential through education and tourism.

They pointed to the absence of a master plan that would provide them with guidance on implementing strategies and plans for the development and management of the park, which was established 30 years ago — and would enable them to achieve the park’s  two primary goals. The first is to collect, protect and conserve orchid, bird and endangered species, particularly those native to Papua. The second is to develop the park into an eco-park or a center for eco-tourism and eco-education in Papua.

With the master plan and well-equipped strategies, the park manager would be able to effectively lead TBTA Biak to conservation as well societal outcomes. The sanctuary can also benefit from further development and cooperation with other research and conservation  networks.

Under the 2018 Manokwari Declaration, the Papua provincial government has committed to promoting conservation. Realizing the importance of supporting this commitment, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has been working with the Environment and Forestry Services of Papua province to ensure that the park’s draft master plan to support the conservation of orchid and bird species is well understood, and lessons learned from other similar initiatives shared.

Two seminar — or knowledge sharing — events were organized by the TBTA Biak of the Environment and Forestry Services of Papua province, with additional support from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the UK Climate Change Unit (UKCCU). They were held in 2019 and 2020 in Biak. Simultaneously broadcast online, they delved into potential collaborations with various organizations.

Attendees at the two events discussed how to ensure optimal conservation outcomes, and how to meet goals to make a center for eco-tourism and eco-education in Papua.

The events featured a number of speakers from the management of TBTA Biak, the cultural park Taman Mini Indonesia Indah in Jakarta, consultancy firm PT Tranadi Tata Utami, which is developing the master plan, the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and key scientists from local educational institutions, including Universitas Papua, Universitas Cendrawasih and Universitas Ottow Geissler.

CIFOR researchers shared lessons learned from activities surrounding community-based conservation of orchids in West Kalimantan.

Biodiversity for the people

The symbiotic relationship between the communities around the forest and their ecosystems increases opportunities for improved incomes through the use of non-timber forest products and environmental services.

By expanding tourism, the local economy will benefit, Mampioper said.

“The current trend shows that many tourists prefer natural and beautiful nature as their destination,” he said. “This means that with a high number of tourist visits, the level of welfare of the community around the forest will also be raised.”

Around 80 to 90 per cent of communities in Papua rely on forest products, especially non-timber forest products such as sago, he added, explaining that sago, a type of palm tree (Metroxylon sagu Rottb.) found in many areas in Indonesia, is mainly harvested for the starch extracted from the center of the sago palm tree. Sago starch is a common staple food in Papua.

“All parts of the sago tree are used from the roots to the leaves. People use parts of the sago tree to build houses. Sago is also the main source of food,” Mampioper said.

However, serious threats to conservation efforts loom, such as illegal hunting and forest and land degradation, he added, warning that “these threats to conservation can cause the loss of undocumented forest biodiversity data and in the worst case: extinction.”

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