Tue, 04 Feb 2003

Lore Lindu National Park losing its 'soul'

Bambang M, Contributor, Lore Lindu, Central Sulawesi

A major forest usually boasts typical sights such as waterfalls, lakes, mountain scenery or a crystal-clear river flowing through a valley. And the soul of this natural scenery are the wild animals.

For Lore Lindu National Park, one of Indonesia's remaining primary forests, the soul is the red-knobbed hornbill (rhyticeros cassidix), locally called allo. In general terms, the big bird is better-known as rangkong.

Unfortunately, like many other exotic birds elsewhere in Indonesia, the hornbill's population in the 299.000 hectare park is declining due to unchecked poaching, local environmentalists have reported.

Native to Sulawesi, the red-knobbed hornbill has been protected by law since 1999.

At present, the magnificent bird is easily sighted in many parts of the national park. Known as a shy bird, which is as big as a rooster, the hornbill lives in tall trees.

It stands out due to its big yellow beak with black and red stripes on the tilt of the beak. Its body is dominated by black feathers but the tail is white. The male has a yellow head and neck feathers with a red horn on his head while the female's neck and head are black with a yellow horn.

The red-knobbed hornbill perches on tall trees like fig or trees that bear small fruits, which account for its main diet. Up to 85 percent of its diet are figs, which are available all year round.

Among places which are their favorite to flock to are Kalimpaa lake and Lindu lake, where you can see over a dozen red-knobbed hornbill flying across the lake, if you are lucky.

If you see a flock of red knobbed hornbill fly and scream in the sky, it means that rain is imminent.

"This is a traditional belief of people around the park," said Iben from Palu based Yayasan Jambata.

Actually, Sulawesi has two species of hornbill. The other one is Sulawesi dwarf hornbill (oenelopides exarhatus). This hornbill has a smaller beak and body size. The whole body is (both male and female) covered by black feathers. The male has a yellow head. This bird, which lives and feeds in the lower canopy, is more rarely sighted.

Both hornbills have unique behavior when they are going to lay eggs. They don't make a nest like other birds. First they will look for a big hole (enough for the female's body) in the big branch of the tree. After the female is inside, the male with female's help seals the hole with mud, leaving just a small slit. The breeding season for the red-knobbed hornbill is between July and September while for Sulawesi's dwarf hornbill it is between April and July.

They have to seal the hole to prevent predators like the Sulawesi giant civet (Macrogalidia muschenbrcoeki) from coming in. The small slit serves as ventilation and to pass food from the male hornbill to his mate. The female remains enclosed while she incubates her eggs and raises her offspring until they are able to fly. During this time, the male has the duty to look for food for them. Apart from fruit, these hornbills also like to eat insects

When their offspring are ready to fly, then the hole is opened. It's time for the offspring to learn how to fly under their parents' close supervision.

The red-knobbed hornbill plays an important role in preserving the forest. The fruit's seeds do not crush during the digestion process and will emerge again with the bird's droppings. If the hornbill's droppings fall on the land, the seed will grow into a new tree.

To instill awareness about the hornbill's survival, environmental activists based in the capital Palu have conducted an information campaign directed at children living in the park's vicinity through Allo-allo periodical, which has been popular.

Beside the periodical, the message was also conveyed to school children around the park through puppet shows between 1999 and 2001, featuring the hornbill as the main character.

In this puppet show, the bird named Yojo always tells people not to clear the forest. "It (logging) destroys my home and makes big floods," he said.

Indeed, illegal land clearing and logging which continue in many parts of the national park are threatening the priceless flora and fauna.

According to the manager of Lore Lindu National Park, Banjar Yulianto Laban, the park has lost about 10 percent of its original 299,000 hectares (Kompas, Oct. 26, 2002).