SUMATRAN WILDLIFE Marvel, from the magnificent to the minuscule
Sumatra Wildlife – Animals and Birdlife in IndonesiaLuke Mackin2019-09-10T20:03:28+07:00
The words wild and life could not be more true than in Sumatra’s Kerinci and Bengkulu regions. The Kerinci Seblat National Park, and it’s surrounding area, is home to at least 360 species of birds, 85 species of mammals and 4,000 species of plants. From miniature orchids to the giant corpse flower, from the smallest armored spider to the mysterious and fierce tiger, prepare to be humbled by all manner of birds and beasts.
Below are just a few examples of the diverse flora and fauna that thrive in the forests of Kerinci. A more complete list (with Latin, English, and Local names) can be found here.
The Kerinci Seblat National Park covers a large section of the Bukit Barisan mountain range, running through the provinces of West Sumatra, Jambi, Bengkulu, and South Sumatra. It is the largest national park on Sumatra and, at 13,791 square kilometers, one of the largest protected areas in all of South East Asia. To put this in perspective, the park is 2.5x the size of Bali and has more protected forest than in all of Costa Rica. That’s a lot of room for some of the world’s most beautiful plant and animal species to flourish! The National Park is also one of twenty Global Priority Tiger Conservation Landscapes.
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, the Kerinci Seblat National Park has a wide variety of geological features and landscapes – from volcanoes and cloud forests, to marshes and lowlands, hot springs to waterfalls to lakes, Kerinci is diverse in every way.
To see a few of the creatures I’ve personally been lucky enough to photograph in and around the National Park, check out my Project Noah page here. For a more complete bird and mammal list (in English and local languages) click here. Credits to the Kerinci Seblat National Park. Don’t forget to print it out and take it with you when you trek into the National Park! What follows are just a few of the creatures that you might encounter.
The Kerinci Seblat National Park holds the highest population of tigers on Sumatra, estimated to be between 165-190 individuals, and also has the highest occupancy rate, with over 83% of the park showing signs of tigers. There are more tigers in this park than in all of Nepal, and more than in China, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam combined. Thanks to the incredible work of the Tiger Protection and Conservation Units, there are actually more tigers now in Kerinci Seblat than when the program started over ten years ago. WildCats Conservation Alliance is one of a number of organizations directly supporting the tiger conservation program here, and we’re thrilled to be partnering with them in donating 5% of the total cost of our trips to their work.
Tigers are vitally important for a healthy ecosystem, and help to control populations of wild boar and deer that often ravage farmer’s crops. Unfortunately, despite their important place in Kerinci society (see the Culture section), they are greatly threatened by poachers, usually outsiders, for their use in traditional Chinese medicine and the illegal pet trade. Many also accidentally become trapped in snares meant to catch wild boar and deer raiding farmland. Sumatran tigers are the last remaining subspecies of tiger in Indonesia, with the Bali Tiger going extinct in the 1930s, and the Javan tiger in the 1970s.
Unlike in India, tigers in Sumatra are notoriously hard to spot, partly due to the dense rainforest environment that they live in, and partly due to their more cautious personality. It’s not too uncommon to come across signs of their presence, but please don’t come expecting to see them! While it does occasionally happen (I was lucky enough to get a glimpse once, and a few of our guests have as well), the chance is very, very slim. However, like other cats, they’re curious, and even though you may not see them, there’s a fair chance that they’ve seen you, particularly the longer you stay in the forest. But there’s no reason to worry – tigers rarely attack people, particularly when travelling in groups of three or more. There’s a strong local belief that if you have good intentions in the forest, then tigers will leave you alone. This seems to be the case – the few people who are taken around Sumatra every year are almost all poachers or encroachers, and they’re usually travelling alone (always safest to enter the forest in groups of three). There are no recorded cases of a tiger ever attacking a nature lover visiting or camping in Kerinci Seblat National Park.
Tigers are most active just before and after dawn and dusk hours as well as after a rain, although they can be out at any time of the day or night. They seem to most prefer travelling along ridge trails. Sumatran tigers are also the smallest and darkest of all tiger subspecies.
Besides tigers, there are six species of Felids within the national park. The beautiful Sunda Clouded Leopards (Neofelis diardi) are expert climbers, and are the second largest wild cats in Kerinci. Asiatic Golden Cats (Pardofelis temminckii) are the next largest cats, and often can be found in melanistic form. Little is known about the wild cats of Kerinci, as they are rarely seen and under studied. However, their pug marks and scat are very frequently seen throughout the rainforest. (Clouded Leopard image credit Paulo Philippidis)
Slow Lorises are incredibly unique mammals. One of the few nocturnal primates, they are the only primate that is venomous. Mixing secretions from a gland near their elbow with their saliva produces a potent toxin that can cause a painful, lingering wound if bitten. They also have two tongues!
Sadly, slow lorises are increasingly threatened by the illegal pet trade, thanks to their cuteness and viral Youtube videos showing people playing with them. In order to make them suitable as pets, poachers will snip their teeth to prevent their vicious bite. In the process, many will die from infection. The “slow” in their name is actually a misnomer – they usually move quite fast when not being blasted by the bright lights of a pet store or someone’s home. They’re used to living in the dark after all. A great organization working to raise awareness of the plight of the slow loris is the Little Fireface Project. Check them out!
There is nothing in the world like the song of a family of Siamang gibbons radiating through the rainforest in the morning. Generally starting between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning throughout the National Park, their calls, which are meant to define and defend their clan’s territory and can resonate for miles, usually begin petering off by about noon. You have never heard a more majestic Battle of the Bands. The speed and agility with which they fly through the tree tops is a sight to behold, especially considering their size – they’re the largest of the lesser apes. Endangered due to habitat loss, they are abundant throughout Kerinci. Anyone who spends a night in the forest will wake up to their enchanting singing.
A subspecies of Sumatran Surili, these beautiful, cinnamon-colored leaf monkeys are unique to this part of Sumatra. Like other leaf monkeys, they are at home in the trees and rarely, if ever, come down to the ground, unlike their macaque brethren. Their diet consists mainly of fruit and leaves. Interestingly, as babies they are snow-white in color. Almost always found in groups of six or more, they’re fairly common throughout Kerinci, and enjoy being on the edge of the forest as much as deep within.
The second largest lizards in the world after Komodo dragons, water monitors are massive, prehistoric-looking creatures that can grow to weigh over a hundred pounds and up to ten feet in length. They’re frequently seen along streams and rivers throughout the populated valley and into the forested mountains.
Also known as “honey bears” because of the importance that honey plays in their diet, Sun bears have short, black, water resistant fur, and are the smallest of all bears. They also are the least studied of all bears due to the rainforest environment they inhabit, their solitary, often nocturnal, and frequently arboreal behavior. Unlike most bears, they never hibernate.
The marvelous Malayan Tapir is a somewhat comical looking animal, with it’s long nose and large body. Despite their size, similar to a water buffalo, they are notoriously difficult to spot in the wild, and are surprisingly fast when they need to be. Mostly active at night, they’re generally solitary creatures, and feed on the leaves and shoots of various plants. They enjoy being near water, but are also found high on mountain ridge trails. Their tracks are quite distinctive, as one would imagine.
There are five species of civets found within the Kerinci Seblat National Park, including the bearcat (Arctictis binturong) and the pictured Small-toothed Palm Civet (Arctogalidia trivirgata). Civets are generally nocturnal, solitary animals, and are omnivorous, feeding on fruits, small animals, and insects. Civets, particularly the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), are famous for the role that they play in the production of Kopi Luwak. Unfortunately, demand for this niche coffee has lead to the capture of untold numbers of civets, and their decline in the wild. Best to avoid Kopi Luwak unless you can be 100% certain that it came from wild and not from caged and abused civets.
There are a huge variety of squirrels within the Kerinci Seblat National Park – twelve species to be exact. From tiny, diurnal ground squirrels, to giant, nocturnal flying squirrels, they fill many niches within the ecosystem.
There are three species of deer in Kerinci, two species of chevrotain (also known as mouse-deer), and serow (which look similar in appearance to goats, but are more closely related to antelope). Their scat and tracks are frequently encountered along forest trails, and at night, it’s not uncommon to hear the bark of a Red Muntjac (or possibly the rare Sumatran Muntjac) calling out a warning.
Another even-toed ungulate, wild boar are some of the most commonly encountered large mammals in Kerinci, with Sus Scrofa in particular a frequent pest for farmers. There are many boar hunting clubs in this region of Sumatra, with Sundays being a favorite day to, at a farmer’s request, head into the fields at a with their dogs and spears, to take care of the problem boar. As wild boar can reach sizes in excess of 200 kg, and have sharp tusks, they can be quite dangerous if threatened.
Sumatran elephants, while once widespread, are now only found in two locations in Kerinci – deep within the National Park in the areas of Sipurak and Muara Imat, and in the Seblat area of Bengkulu, to the South West. There’s actually an Elephant Conservation Center training camp at Seblat, similar to the famous one in Tangkahan, North Sumatra. Wild elephants are the most feared and most dangerous of all animals in Kerinci – if you are lucky enough to see a herd, you better hope they don’t see you!
Despite their scary latin name, Flying Foxes solely feed on fruit, flowers, and nectar. One of the largest bats in the world, they can have wingspans of up to five feet, and look like large eagles when in flight – quite a primordial sight to behold. They are a vitally important part of the ecosystem, pollinating a wide variety of fruit trees (including the famous Durian). Frequently in the evening in Sungai Penuh and other parts of the valley, large numbers can be seen flying high overhead – so keep an eye out! A massive colony makes their home on the shores of Lake Kerinci, and watching them erupt into the skies at sunset, while the call to prayer echoes through the valley, is a sublime experience.
Hornbills are large, flamboyant birds with often striking coloration on their faces and necks. There are nine different species of Hornbill in Kerinci. They feast mainly on fruit, but also insects and even small animals occasionally. They have loud, distinct calls which vary by species, and the loud woosh of their wings as they take off can be quite startling – to the uninitiated it can be mistaken for a tiger’s roar. Sadly, they’ve become under increasing threat lately, due to the use of their beaks in Chinese medicine.
These birds, while fairly common, brilliantly colored, and frequently heard, are often difficult to spot do to their ability to blend in. Their repetitive, droning calls often can be confused for insects or frogs.
Kerinci is famous among birdwatchers as being the home to the endemic and very rare Salvadori’s Pheasant (Lophura inornata), Schneider’s Pitta (Pitta schneideri) and Sumatran Cochoa (Cochoa beccarii). Other Sumatran endemic birds include the Sumatran Treepie (Dendrocitta occipitalis), the Cream-striped Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucogrammicus), the Sumatran Trogon (Apalharpactes mackloti), and more.
The extremely rare Amorphophallus Titanum, also known as Bungai Bankai, or Corpse Flower in Indonesian, is only found on the island of Sumatra. It’s the largest flower in the world, reaching heights of over three meters. It also has the largest corm in the world, with some specimens weighing over 250 lbs. When in full bloom, the Titan Arum projects the sickening, putrid smell of death to attract carrion beetles, flies, and other pollinators. To help further disperse its odor, the spadix of the flower heats up to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the tremendous amount of resources spent to produce such heat, the Titan Arum requires five years or more to store up enough energy before it can be ready to bloom again. While Titan Arums can unpredictably flower at any time of the year, supposedly they do so more frequently in the months of January and April.
Tropical pitcher plants are carnivorous plants found throughout the highlands of Kerinci. There are many, many varieties here, and some species are endemic to just one or two mountains. Inside the cup-like plant is a liquid that traps insects that have fallen inside. The hapless insects are then slowly digested and their nutrients absorbed. A few villages, like Lempur in the south, use certain kinds of pitcher plants as a container for a traditional rice dessert called lemang.
Of course, we have to mention the fabled cryptid Orang Pendek, Sumatra’s version of Big Foot. Meaning “short person” in English, some believe that Orang Pendek are long lost hominids, similar to homo floresiensis. Others believe it’s a bipedal ape, perhaps an offshoot of orangutans, which are only found in northern Sumatra. One theory is that the cataclysmic Toba eruption split the species into two parts, with the northern variety evolving into today’s Orangutans, and the southern variety into Orang Pendeks. Some believe it is perhaps a very large, and more terrestrial, species of gibbon. While still others chalk it up to just being a case of mistaken identity. However, there have been a number of eyewitness accounts, including a few well known conservationists and biologists. There have also been several expeditions throughout the years, some even televised (Beast Hunter, MonsterQuest, Destination Truth, Is It Real?, X-Creatures, and Finding Bigfoot). Not to mention the 2 year camera-trapping team funded by the National Geographic Society.
So far, there has been little physical evidence besides a few footprint casts and inconclusive hair DNA testing. But you never know. Maybe you’ll be the one to finally snap that elusive photo! :-P