Intrepid travel off the beaten path: Raising awareness of ecotourism in Central Kalimantan

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Indonesia is a vast country with a wide array of tourism offerings. Given the variety of landscapes spread across the archipelago, ecotourism has become an important part of the country’s tourism portfolio. While most visitors flock to the beaches of Bali or Central Java to visit Borobudur, there are a plethora of natural wonders waiting to be discovered just off the beaten path. One such area in particular is central Borneo.

As the third-largest island in the world, Borneo covers some 755,000 sq km and is divided between three nations including Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia. The Indonesian portion of Borneo is called Kalimantan and covers approximately three-quarters of the island’s total land area. Central Borneo, known as Central Kalimantan in Indonesia, and home to 2.2m people as of 2010, is largely covered by mountains and dense rainforests. The southern portion of Central Kalimantan, bordered to the south by the Java Sea, is home to mangrove forests and peat swamps, which is an ideal habitat for the abundance of wildlife that live here.

By far the most important ecotourism destination in central Borneo, Tanjung Puting National Park (TPNP) was declared a game reserve in 1935 and made a national park in 1982. Meaning “Cape Nipple” in Bahasa Indonesian due to the park’s unique shape, the park covers 3040 square km. It is home to a variety of flora and fauna that inhabit its different ecosystems, from salty mangrove swamps and freshwater peat swamps to blackwater rivers. TPNP has become a well-known nature reserve due to the animals that live there, most notably the orangutan.

WILDLIFE: Orangutan, meaning “jungle man” in Bahasa Indonesian, can only be found on Borneo and Sumatra, with TPNP home to the largest wild orangutan population in the world. The park has received global recognition for the efforts of Biruté Galdikas, one of the pre-eminent researchers of orangutans, who established Camp Leakey in the heart of the park that functions as a rehabilitation and research centre for orangutans. The park is also home to the proboscis monkey, which is mainly found in Kalimantan and famous for its large nose, in addition to seven other primate species. Some 230 avian species are also located in TPNP including hornbills. Clouded leopards, sun bears, pythons, civet cats, and estuarine crocodiles are just a few of the other animal species that dwell in this habitat.

ACCESSIBILITY: Ecotourism options are relatively well developed around TPNP, although the area is still rather underserved by visitors. Local tour operators estimate the park received around 5000 visitors in 2011. Getting there is easy enough. The closest airport, Iskandar Airport, is located in Pangkalan Bun and can be accessed via most international airports in Indonesia. Kal Star Aviation and Trigana Air Service offer flights to Pangkalan Bun from Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta.

The park area can only be reached by river, so traveling by boat is not only necessary but also a unique experience in its own right. There are numerous boat cruise operators located in Kumai Port, which is a short drive from the airport in Pangkalan Bun. Boating down the Sekonyer River and through the canals in the jungle offers a wonderful opportunity to observe the natural beauty of the area while also keeping an eye out for local wildlife. The main finale of the boat cruise is Camp Leakey, where visitors can view orangutan feedings and come face-to-face with these remarkable creatures. Orangutans roam freely throughout the park and can also be found hanging around the camp. Furthermore, the park has developed trails throughout the jungle to allow visitors the opportunity to explore one of the world’s largest rainforests. Tour operators offer several accommodation options including lodging on boats, homestay in the local village or staying in ecolodges on the edge of the park.

Ecotourism not only helps to support the local economy, but also brings further attention to the challenge of regulating human and economic activity impacting biodiverse regions. It is thus of great importance for Indonesia to protect this special part of the world and to promote the environment for rare fauna and wildlife.

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