Meru Betiri National Park covers 580 square kilometres (58,000 hectares) of eastern Java. It receives few tourists as accessibility is very difficult and the drive is a long bumpy trip, even by 4WD. The 30 kilometre trip crosses half a dozen rivers as it winds its way through dense forest and a runner plantation. As visitors near the park the potholes just get larger and the ride more unpleasant. It is perhaps unnecessary to point out how beneficial this is for the wildlife of the area.
Named after the highest mountain in the area, Gunung Betiri, the park consists of one of the last large areas of lowland rainforest on Java. Amongst this are mangroves, lowland swamp forest and beach formations.
It is from this reserve that continued reports of Javan tigers persist. These claims come from park staff and locals, but some experts suspect they are erroneous leopard sightings. In 1972 only seven Javan tigers were known to be Meru Betiri, and even as it was declared a reserve, (that very year), the area was under attack by agricultural development. A 1979 census located the tracks of only three tigers. Since that time all reports have been unable to be substantiated. It took until 1997 for the government to declare the area a National Park. These actions were far too late for the Javan tiger.
Experiments are to be carried out using infrared remote cameras as this would seem to be the only likely method of locating any tigers. Authorities are prepared to move several thousand natives from the local area if required. For these people the park provides honey, bamboo, rattan, wood, grass, food and 300 different types of medicinal plants.
Barking deer, wild boar, Banteng, sambar, Javan leaf monkeys, long-tailed macaques, pangolin, black giant squirrels, large flying foxes, reticulated pythons, Javanese eagles and water monitors all occupy the area. Felids at Meru Betiri include the leopard and the small leopard cat.
Conservation efforts are primarily concentrated on the nearby turtle nesting beaches, particularly at Sukamade, where the turtles are monitored and protected during egg laying. Green, leatherback, hawksbill, Olive Ridley and loggerhead turtles uses the same beaches.
Tagging of turtles has been taking place for some years. Together with the use of hatcheries, this has seen the populations stabilize and increase. Arriving between 9 p.m. and midnight, the turtles crawl determinedly up the beach, deposit up to 100 eggs beneath half a metre of sand and then return to the water; this takes some hours. Turtle Wardens collect the eggs and bury them where they will be secure from poachers and leopards. These big cats wait patiently in the hope of an opportunity to grab an easy meal.
Hatching takes two months, and if the hatchling survives the precarious 25 years to adulthood it may live to see 150. To increase the chance of survival the newborn turtles are collected and kept in tanks until they are stronger.
Meru Betiri National Park now faces ravaging by, not one, but by three separate mining companies. 80,000 tons of gold deposits have been found located within the area of east Java and three, possibly four, companies have joined forces for an application to mine the area. This has already been approved by local government officials who described the land as a local asset to be exploited by third parties. Before making their decision officials enquired about employment opportunities, data on the findings, and what income there would be for the region. There was no recorded mention of wildlife conservation.
Until recent times, the primary focus at Meru Betiri has been that of conservation. This has changed with the mining opportunity and increased promotion of tourism for this area. With ever increasing demands for 'Adventure Tourism', and thrill-seeking, efforts are being made to attract more visitors. This will inevitably be at the expense of the wildlife in the area.
With Thanks To Martin Kramer (Photos 2 & 3)