By Virginia Verastuti | May 2009

img_feat_jkt3_may2009_Muara Angke Wildlife Reserve_Jan Dekker

A sanctuary of calm within bustling Jakarta city proper. One of the city's best-kept secret.

Birds chirping, dense growths of mangrove and pedada trees swarming with long-tailed monkeys – it’s hard to imagine that all this can still be found in Jakarta, but it is, at the Muara Angke Wildlife Reserve in North Jakarta.

Entering the wildlife reserve, I was greeted by birds calling to one another from the mangrove and pedada trees. They seemed to be welcoming our arrival with the sounds of nature. It was all so peaceful and pleasant.

The Muara Angke Wildlife Reserve (Suaka Margasatwa Muara Angke, SMMA) is a small conservation area of mangrove forests on the north coast of Jakarta. It was originally established by the Netherlands Indies government as a nature preserve on 17 June 1939 with an area of 15.04 ha, and later expanded to 1,344.62 ha in the 1960s.

Unfortunately, steadily increasing environmental pressures from both within and outside the Muara Angke area have damaged much of the reserve. Therefore, 60 years after it was first designated as a nature preserve, in 1998 the Indonesian government changed its status to that of a wildlife reserve.

As the last remaining mangrove forest in Jakarta, SMMA, which has a conservation area of 25.02 hectares, is Jakarta’s last line of defense against seawater abrasion and rising tides, as well as functioning as lungs for the city and a runoff area for floodwaters.

That afternoon I was accompanied by Edy Sutrisno, a volunteer from Jakarta Green Monster, and two German tourists who had been staying in Jakarta for seven months. We enjoyed the view of the clusters of mangroves and pidada and nipah trees by hiking along the 800-meter bridge trail, which was completed in March last year.

Now and then we saw birds emerging from the dense mangroves; several long-tailed monkeys seemed to be holding a caucus in the trees, or even crossing the trail. Edy said that this bridge trail will be extended to circumnavigate the SMMA area and connected to the protected forest so that visitors will have an even more interesting experience.

Within the reserve there are at least 30 species of plants, of which eleven are trees. The types of mangrove trees here include bakau (Rhizophora mucronata, Rapiculata), api-api (Avicennia spp.), pidada (Sonneratia caseolaris) and buta-buta (Excoecaria agallocha). Other tree species such as ketapang (Terminalia catappa) and nipah (Nypa fruticans) are also found here.

Apart from these species, several others have been introduced as part of the reforestation effort, such as asam jawa (tamarind, Tamarindus indica), bintaro (Cerbera manghas), kormis (Acacia auriculiformis), nyamplung (Calophyllum inophyllum), tanjang (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza), and waru laut (Hibiscus tiliaceus).

The SMMA is also a habitat for many species of birds and other creatures that are becoming scarce, particularly within Jakarta. Jakarta Green Monster has recorded 91 bird species found in the reserve: 28 species of water birds and 63 of forest birds. Around 17 of these are protected species.

I also had the chance to observe the birds from the ‘Bird Hide’, a sort of platform placed securely in the middle of the path. From there, we could watch birds gathering food and engaged in other activities, without disturbing them.

Among the bird species commonly found at SMMA are Pecuk-padi Kecil (lesser cormorant, Phalacrocorax niger), Cangak (heron, Ardeola spp.), Kuntul (egret, Egretta spp.), Kareo Padi (white-breasted water hen, Amaurornis phoenicurus), Mandar Batu (moorhen, Gallinula chloropus), Betet Biasa (red-breasted parakeet, Psittacula alexandri), Merbah Cerukcuk (yellow-vented bulbul, Pycnonotos goiavier), Kipasan Belang (pied fantail, Rhipidura javanica), Remetuk Laut (golden-bellied gerygone, Gerygone sulphurea), and many others. Several of these species are endemic to the mangrove forest, such as Sikatan Bakau (mangrove flycatcher, Cyornis rufigastra). The SMMA is also home to the Perenjak Jawa (bar-winged prinia, Prinia familiaris).

Several other endemic bird species found hare are species found only on the island of Java, such as Cerek Jawa (Javan plover, Charadrius Javanicus) and Bubut Jawa (Sunda coucal, Centropus nigrorufus). The Bubut Jawa is a world endangered species that exists in only a few places, including the SMMA.

The Bubut Jawa population in SMMA is currently no more than ten individuals. Another endangered bird species that lives here is the bangau bluwok (milky stork, Mycteria cinerea). The only place in Java where this species is known to breed is Pulau Rambut, an island not far from Muara Angke.

In addition to the bird species, the SMMA also has several bands of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis). There are currently around three large bands of these monkeys, each comprising around 20 to 30 animals. Their main food is the young leaves and fruits of the mangrove trees, such as pidada (Sonneratia caseolaris) fruits. These long-tailed monkeys play an important role in the Muara Angke Wildlife Reserve, because they help disseminate the seeds of the forest plants; these indigestible seeds are expelled in their feces.

Another mammal species that lives in the SMMA but is much more rarely seen is the berang-berang cakar-kecil (small-clawed otter, Aonyx cinerea). This small carnivore, which feeds on fish and other water creatures, is mostly nocturnal.

The SMMA is also home to various reptile species, such as biawak air (water monitor, Varanus salvator), ular sanca kembang (reticulated python, Python reticulatus), ular sendok Jawa or Javan spitting cobra (Naja sputatrix), ular welang (banded krait, Bungarus fasciatus), ular kadut belang (puff-faced water snake, Homalopsis buccata), ular cincin mas (gold-banded mangrove snake, Boiga dendrophila), ular pucuk (green whip snake, Ahaetula prasina), and ular bakau (dog-faced water snake, Cerberus rhynchops). Local residents also claim that buaya muara (estuary crocodile, Crocodylus porosus) are found here.

While walking along the bridge trail, we were surprised to see an eagle circling over the SMMA area. Edy suspected that it was a crested serpent eagle (elang ular bido), a species that would normally be seen in the mountains.

SMMA is also an important transit area for birds migrating between the northern and southern hemispheres.

“It’s hard to imagine you can find a place like this in Jakarta. I’m so happy it exists, but at the same time a bit sad because the area is too small,” said Guido, a German tourist who is also an entomologist.

The operator of the SMMA is the Natural Resource Conservation Unit (BKSDA). This agency is technically under the Department of Forestry, but in practice it is assisted by other institutions such as the Jakarta Green Monster community, whose volunteers publicize the reserve’s existence, share their knowledge by inviting school groups to visit, and conduct monitoring survey of the animals found in the reserve.

Currently, most of the visitors to the Muara Angke Wildlife Reserve are students or tourists who want to see the Bubut Jawa. It’s also a great alternative tourism destination in Jakarta – a place to relax after your intense daily routine. Listening to the ceaseless chirping of the birds, or looking at the colors of the insects as they flit among the trees, helps us to forget all that – it’s really hard to imagine you’re still in Jakarta.

Original piece appeared in Garuda Inflight Magazine

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