Camera traps capture snapshots of conservation success in Sumatra

Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris ssp. sumatrae). (© BTNBG and CI)

This post was co-authored by Agnes Batuara.

Sumatra’s biodiversity is at a critical juncture — widespread forest clearing, wildlife poaching and land-use intensification has put much of the island’s astonishing flora and fauna under considerable threat.

Batang Gadis National Park sits in the heart of the Island. This 72,803-hectare national park is a critical refuge for biodiversity, being identified both as an Endemic Bird Area and Key Biodiversity Area. These recognize it as the highest priority for global conservation efforts. The national park also forms part of a larger block of connected forest that extends some 400,000 hectares. Conservation International through its Sustainable Landscapes Partnership initiative is collaborating with the national park’s management authority to conduct wildlife monitoring and introduce a range of practical conservation tools. As a result of this partnership, Batang Gadis National Park has now become one of the most effective protected areas in the country.

Rangers in Batang Gadis National Park deploying camera traps as part of the monitoring program. (© BTNBG)

Wildlife monitoring

To comprehensively assess the park’s wildlife, we deployed 120 camera traps over a two-year period. The results underscore the extraordinary importance of the area. The cameras confirmed that there are significant populations of species such as the Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica), Sumatran Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi ssp. diardi), Tapir (Tapirus indicus), Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris ssp. sumatrae) and Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus). All of these animals are threatened and have declining populations.

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The cameras also captured six species categorized as endangered by the IUCN Red List including the first sighting in the national park of the endemic Sumatran Ground-cuckoo (Carpococcyx viridis). Thought to be extinct for nearly a century, this enigmatic forest bird is one of Indonesia’s most threatened. Its population is estimated to be around 50-249 mature individuals. The sighting occurred approximately 200 kilometres further north than any previous records. This is very significant and suggests that a new population of the Sumatran Ground-cuckoo has been discovered. Unfortunately, hunting continues to pose a threat.

Sumatran Ground-cuckoo (Carpococcyx viridis) sunning on the forest floor. (© BTNBG and CI)

Sumatran Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi ssp. diardi). (© BTNBG and CI)

Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART)

SMART field training with Batang Gadis National Park rangers. (© Paul van Nimwegen)

To reduce the impact of threats such as wildlife poaching, we are also working with the national park to introduce the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART). Developed by an international consortium, this spatial software tool improves law enforcement and field monitoring through systematically collecting, storing and retrieving field-based data such as illegal activities and biological values. This information is then available to support evidence-based decision-making.

Density of patrols conducted in the national park (SMART system data, 2015-17). (© BTNBG)

The national park has emerged as one of the country’s most successful users of SMART.  The system is now fully operational, with field incidents being recorded and entered into the software. This is then used to create simple-to-interpret reports (including maps and tables) that are used by rangers to evaluate patrol activities, set targets and design strategies to safeguard the national park (see below maps). Tellingly, technical staff from the national park are now delivering SMART training in other parts of the country, including as far afield as West Papua.

Threats to the national park encountered during patrols (SMART system data, 2015-17). (© BTNBG)

What’s next?

The future of biodiversity in Batang Gadis National Park looks bright — it stands tall as an example of how Sumatra’s forests can be better managed to conserve biodiversity. However, challenges still remain in the broader landscape. As surrounding land-use intensifies through activities such as palm oil plantations and mining, the region’s wildlife will continue to be marginalised. It is essential that government and industry work together with local communities to encourage economic development in a way that sustainably manages the island’s natural capital.

Great Argus (Argusianus argus) courtship display. (© BTNBG and CI)

Paul van Nimwegen is a consultant for CI Indonesia. Agnes Batuara is the conservation and forest officer for the Sustainable Landscape Partnership in Indonesia.

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