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The biogeographical border that divides the western and eastern halves of the Indonesian archipelago is called Wallace’s Line. It was the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace who first noted the difference in wildlife between the two regions while exploring the islands in the mid-1800s. He observed that mammals and birds common to East Asia populated Indonesia’s western region. The eastern region’s species, by contrast, more closely mirrored those of Australia and New Guinea.
Wallace posited that the western islands had snapped off from continental Asia and the eastern islands were fragments of a west Pacific continent. His theory, later proven largely accurate, identified what is now the boundary between the Indo-Mala islands and those of Australasia.
Today, Indonesia’s western islands are broadly known as Sundaland while its eastern islands are aptly dubbed Wallacea. Because of their rich biodiversity and ever-increasing threat, each region is also a biodiversity hotspot.
Protecting the eclectic wildlife of Indonesia ranks as a vital priority for Conservation International. CI’s efforts are focused in Sumatra, Siberut Island, Java and the Togean Islands.
This region consists of the major Indonesian islands of Bali, Borneo, Java, and Sumatra, neighboring smaller islands, and the Malay Peninsula. Borneo’s majestic Mt. Kinabalu and the volcanic moonscape of Java accent the mangrove, peat, rain, and scrub forests that prevail across Sundaland. The rich soil supports no fewer than 15,000 species of plants unique to the region. Most impressive may be the Raffelsia arnoldii, the world’s largest flower. Its reddish-orange blossom can grow to a diameter of 1 meter and weigh up to 11 kilograms, all the while releasing a carrion-like scent that attracts flies to pollinate it. Among the large mammals that roam Sundaland are some that could be termed the spokesmodels of conservation, including Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), tigers (Panthera tigris), and Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis). Sumatra and Borneo provide habitat for the world’s last two remaining species of orangutan (Pongo abelii and Pongo pygmaeus) , which in the Malay language means “man of the forest.” Wallacea
Indonesia’s eastern region encompasses two groups of islands, Nusa Tenggara and North Maluku, the islands of Timor and Sulawesi, and most of the Maluku province. Tropical rainforests dominate the landscape, giving rise to a remarkable array of amphibians, reptiles, and birds. The Sulawesi toad (Bufo celebensis), the Komodo cross frog (O. jeffersoniana), and the mighty Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), the planet’s lizard king all call Wallacea home. Cerulean paradise flycatchers (Eutrichomyias rowleyi) and purple-bearded bee-eaters (Meropogon forsteni) count as two of the hundreds of bird species found only in Wallacea. Other colorful species include the red-knobbed hornbill (Aceros cassidix) and the Maleo bird (Macrocephalon maleo), which resembles a chicken and lays eggs the size of small cantaloupes. Saving Indonesia
The growth of Indonesia’s population, as well as its pulp production, mining, and oil palm industries, has devastated the country’s flora and fauna. At the national level, CI engages extensively in national forestry and conservation policy initiatives to try to halt forest loss. The wildlife trade may be the most insidious threat to Indonesia’s charismatic fauna. Poachers continue to hunt critically endangered species such as rhinos, orangutans, and tigers, while amphibians are threatened by the growing international frog leg market. Sumatra is CI’s most immediate priority in Indonesia. Working with public agencies, wildlife groups, and local leaders in Indonesia to develop an island-wide vision for conservation. In Northern Sumatra, work is underway to create a biodiversity conservation corridor, an endeavor that could prove crucial to saving the island’s large mammals from extinction. Moreover, CI participates in ongoing outreach programs to educate communities about the economic benefits of conservation and sustainable resource use. The mobile environmental education unit reaches communities in remote villages to encourage protection for Sumatran orangutans. On the island of Java, a similar unit visits schools and villages to share the plight of critically endangered gibbons.
© CI, Jennifer Carr
© CI, Ted London
© CI, Cynthia Mackie
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