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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News : Rare rhinoceros threatened as fire razes 30,000 ha of national park

Rare rhinoceros threatened as fire razes 30,000 ha of national park

  National News - October 30, 2002

Oyos Saroso H.N., The Jakarta Post, Way Kambas, Lampung Timur

Fires have thus far burned 30,000 hectares of the protected forest in Lampung this year, threatening the habitat of the protected Sumatran rhinoceros.

The fires at the Way Kambas National Park have spread to an area located around two kilometers from the rhino's main habitat in East Lampung.

It was reported late last month that around 10,000 hectares of land at the park had suffered due to the fires, however, as of Saturday the blaze had claimed some 30,000 hectares.

The worst hit by the fires are the areas of Margarahayu and Labuhanratu in the regency.

Residents close to the park said the forest fires had actually started some four months ago. "But they began to widen in September," said Marjo, a resident from Labuhanratu village.

Bintoro, head of the Way Kambas National Park, blamed the fires partly on illegal settlers who cleared away the forest areas. Besides, it was also due to uncontrollable hot spots, he added.

He said his office had tried to put out the fires with the assistance of dozens of forest police and elephants. "However, we've had difficulties reaching those hot spots, and strong winds continue to fan the flames," he added.

Bintoro said the fires threatened to destroy a protected Sumatran rhinoceros habitat.

A reforestation project, funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), was also in jeopardy, he said.

Watoni Nurdin, an activist with the Lampung Forest Conservation Consortium (K2HL), said uncontrolled activities of animal poachers and settlers worsened the fires at the park.

They allegedly start the fires to enable easy access to the forest, he said. "After the forest is burned, they hope new plants will grow, which would lure wild animals like deer and wild boar," he explained.

Watoni said his organization discovered evidence that the fires were deliberately started in areas near the Penanggungan river, Bungur and Jembat Seling, all in the protected Way Kambas National Park.

"They (suspects) set fires to the areas to make it easy to transport their ill-gotten logs out of the forest," he said.

Meanwhile, illegal logging continues unabated in the areas between the Way Kambas park and the Way Pegadungan river in Central Lampung, where thousands of logs are piled high waiting to be cut or sold.

Usually, the illegal logs are shipped to the provincial capital of Bandarlampung by motor boat or truck before being distributed for sale in Jakarta and other cities.

Guswarman, an environmental activist with Mitra Bentala, said the theft of logs in Way Kambas had intensified since the reform era marked by the 1998 fall of president Soeharto.

"Security personnel and the Way Kambas National Park know about such illegal practices, but they are inept and powerless," Guswarman added.



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