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Although covering only one percent of the earth's surface, Indonesia is amazingly rich in animal and plant life. Contained within its land and water territory are 17% of the world's bird species, 16% of the world's amphibians and reptiles, 12% of the world's mammals, and 10% of the world's flora. Not only does this sprawling island nation possess impressive quantity, but also immense variety.

 Spanning 4,800 kilometers across two biogeographic zones--the Oriental and the Australian--and with landforms ranging from mangrove swamps to glaciers, Indonesia is no doubt the most diverse natural wildlife repository on earth.

To acquaint yourself with Indonesia's incredible biodiversity, visit a Java zoo. The biggest and best zoo in the country is the Ragunan Zoo of Jakarta, with over 4,000 animals and birds, including white tigers, Java rhinos and Komodo dragons. Other zoos include Bandung in Western JA, Yogyakarta in Central Java, and Surabaya in Eastern Java.



Animal Life
Hundreds of different species of mammals are scattered throughout the archipelago. These include the orangutan, with its blazing orange shaggy coat; deep-black wild cattle weighing up to two tons; 35-cm-high miniature deer; clouded leopards; mountain goats; wild warthogs; the Asian sun bear, with a large white circle on its chest; and long-snouted tapirs which gallop like stallions, tossing their heads and whinnying. Two hundred mammal species, of the 500 in the world, are found only in Indonesia.

The fauna of Irian Jaya resembles that of Australia: vividly colored birds of paradise, spiny anteaters, mouse-like flying possums, bandicoots. In northern Sulawesi lives the world's smallest species of monkey, which can easily sit in the palm of the hand. Reptiles include the giant Komodo dragon, the reticulated python, and deep-croaking geckos.

Of approximately 1,500 bird species worldwide, 430 are found in Indonesia and nowhere else. There are peacocks, pheasants, partridges, turkey-sized pigeons, and jungle fowl who incubate their eggs in volcanic steam. Black ibis fly in V-formations, the blue-crowned hanging parrot of the Riaus emits sharp penetrating notes, the glossy black talking mynah of Nias mimics gibbons, and the rhinoceros hornbill of the Kalimantan jungle cackles gleefully with human-like laughter.


Chief among the country's many bird sanctuaries are the small coastal islets of Dua, Rambut, and Bokor, all within easy reach of Jakarta. The island of Sumba in the southeast has 10 endemic species of birds. Bird lovers should check out the spectacular native avifauna at Jakarta's Ragunan Zoo, as well as the bird park at Beautiful Indonesia in Miniature.


Insect and arachnid forms number in the hundreds of thousands: aquatic cockroaches, praying mantises like bright green banana leaves, beetles in the shape of violins, submarine-diving grasshoppers, and the world's most extraordinary moth, the Atlas, with a wingspan of 25 cm. There are spiders that catch and devour small birds in giant webs, and scorpions with bites like bee stings. The fabulously colored butterflies are world famous.

In Indonesia's seas are found the world's rarest shell, the Glory of the Seas; crabs who clip down coconuts and open them on the ground; bony-tongued and luminous fish; freshwater dolphins; fish that climb mangrove trees looking for insects; seaweed that reaches lengths of 75 meters; and the world's only poisonous fish.

Due to its extreme geographic fragmentation, Indonesia is richer in plant species than either the American or African tropics. Its flowering plant species number more than 40,000, representing 10% of all plant species in the world. There are 250 species of bamboo and 150 species of palm. In the more fertile areas flowers are rampant--hibiscus, jasmine, allamanda, frangipani, bougainvillea, lotus lilies one-half meter wide. Java alone has 5,000 plant species; there are twice as many species on Borneo as in all of Africa.


Of the world's 350 species of the commercially important dipterocarp tree, over half are found in Indonesia--155 species in Borneo alone. The tall, hardwood rainforest trees of Irian Jaya rival the giant sequoias of California. This island also possesses alpine moss and heath forests, the equivalent of South America's cloud forests.


Sumatra is home to the insectivorous corpse plant, which smells like putrefying animal flesh to lure insects, and the world's largest bloom, the one-meter-wide rafflesia. The luxurious vegetation of Borneo hosts seductive orchids which glow in the perpetual twilight of the jungle. Here is found the world's only black orchid, Coelogyne pandurata. Because of the unbelievable humidity, strong sunlight, and fecund volcanic soil, when you build a fence in Indonesia, six months later it's no longer a fence--it's a living wall of vegetation.

Nature Reserves
The most expedient way to view Indonesia's plant and animal life is to visit one of its 150 state-run reserves. To gain entry, you must obtain permission from Dinas Perlindungan dan Pengawetan Alam (PHPA), the Forest Authority, which maintains offices in all the major towns throughout Indonesia. The PHPA also staffs branch offices inside the reserves, where you may register and pay a nominal fee. Many also provide inexpensive accommodations in basic lodges, as well as the use of kitchens.


An outstanding reserve is Ujung Kulon National Park in far western Java, where you might see wild cattle, rusa, leopards, gibbons, and one of the last remaining Javan rhinos. The largest of Indonesia's reserves is the mighty 900,000-hectare Gunung Leuser National Park of northern Sumatra, which still marks extensive tracts of land as "unexplored." One of the least known, least visited, yet most accessible reserves is the remarkable Wasur National Park in southeast Irian Jaya, an excellent place to see a variety of large birds and mammals in the wild.


When looking for animals in the rainforest, be patient and go slow. The forest is packed with animals, most of whom hide or flee when loud, clumsy humans come crashing through. You'll see more animals if you walk slowly, stopping frequently, or sit very quietly. Scan the canopy for subtle branch movements.


A tactic used by naturalists involves sitting on a rain poncho beneath a large fruiting forest tree. It's almost certain something will arrive to dine in a relatively short time. Sitting also gives you an opportunity to contact the diverse life on or near the forest floor. Use coconut tobacco juice to fight the leeches.