FLORA AND FAUNA
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.
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.
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.
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.