In one of the world’s largest wetland ecosystems, Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park in Southeast Sulawesi is full of flora, fauna, and stunning natural beauty.
Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park covers an area of 105,194 hectares, not far from the main road between Kolaka and Kendari in Angata District, Konawe Selatan Regency. The park contains a wide variety of ecosystems: tropical rain forest, marsh, and mangrove. The Rawa Aopa area includes two shallow lakes 25 km wide and a hill with an elevation of 549 meters (Gunung Watumohai). The park is home to many types of plants and animals – water plants, birds, and dwarf buffalo (anoa), among others.
The savanna vegetation in the park is unique, in that it combines prairies with various palms (agel and lontar) and bamboo with areas of denser undergrowth growing along the rivers that flow through the savanna.
The diversity of plant species in the region is tremendous: there are at least 89 families, 257 genera and 323 species of plants, including ironwood (lara, Metrosideros petiolata), mempat (sisio, Cratoxylum formosum), kalapi (Callicarpa celebica), tongke (Bruguiera gimnorrhiza), Palmyra palm (lontar, Borassus flabellifer), and lotus (teratai, Victoria spp.).
The area is also home to at least 155 bird species, of which 32 are categorized as rare and 37 as endemic. These include maleo (Macrocephalon maleo), two species of stork (Leptoptilos javanicus and Ciconia episcopus episcopus), white-collared kingfisher (Halcyon chloris chloris), sulfur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita triton), vinous-breasted sparrowhawk (Accipiter rhodogaster rhodogaster), white-faced cuckoo dove (Turacoena manadensis), and Nicobar pigeon (Caloena nicobarica). Among the bird species endemic to Southeast Sulawesi is the pale-bellied white-eye (Zosterops consobrinorum), which was not sighted for decades but has now been seen in Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park.
Primate species in the park include spectral tarsier (Tarsius spectrum spectrum) and Celebes crested black macaque (Macaca nigra nigra). Other rare and protected species include lowland anoa (Bubalus depressicornis), mountain anoa (B. quarlesi), Malayan sail-finned lizard (Hydrosaurus amboinensis), Sulawesi dwarf cuscus (Strigocuscus celebensis celebensis), Timor deer (Cervus timorensis djonga), babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa celebensis), and Sulawesi palm civet (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii musschenbroekii).
According to a survey by the Directorate General of Natural Protection and Conservation and the Wetlands International Indonesia Programme in 1997, Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park is a critical conservation area for the national and international interest. It is considered to represent a biogeographical region that supports a large number of wildlife species, including several that are rare or endangered, such as the milky stork (Mycteria cinerea), estuarine or saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), maleo (Macrocephalon maleo), yellow-crested cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea) and bald-faced or blue-faced rail (Gymnocrex rosenbergii). This location supports the life of a third of Sulawesi’s endemic bird species and six species of mammals endemic to Sulawesi.
Experience Boating in Rawa Aopa
After a 11/2-hour, 120-kilometer drive from Kendari, we arrived at Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park and were welcomed by the Head of the National Park, Adjat Sudrajat. Along the way to the park, we were treated to views of beautiful hills and transmigrant habitations along the roads.
As dusk approached, our adventure began. The somewhat damaged small dock next to the village bridge made me think twice about boating on such an enormous marsh, particularly since our craft was so small – a tiny wooden boat called a katingting. But the sounds of nature at Rawa Aopa compelled me to get in and unite with them; from the dock, the area looked so lovely and inviting.
Two small boats were joined into one with a single motor, and we slowly set out into the huge marsh. Along with seven comrades, I began my adventure into Rawa Aopa.
Pak Rustamin, the skipper, who was sitting right behind me, pointed silently to a ripple in the water not far from our boat. A crocodile passed by. I couldn’t say a word, especially as I saw water slowly splashing into our boat. But the little wooden boat just kept going, its rumbling motor cutting through the quiet of the marsh.
Soon we saw pink lotus flowers blossoming in the middle of the marsh – a lovely sight indeed. Not far away, behind a pandanus thicket, we spied oriental darters fluttering, their wings making a characteristic sound, followed by their characteristic cries. My initial fears were completely allayed, and I fell into a trancelike state of amazement, from which I was only roused when a flock of teal flew directly overhead and then disappeared in the distance in yet another stunning natural display.
The people living around the marsh make their living from farming and fishing, and the fish in the marsh are certainly abundant. In tiny katingting holding only one person and wearing large local hats, the fishermen stay out on the marsh from morning till night. But the fishermen never go into the marsh on Fridays, because of their ancient belief that Friday is the day of the crocodiles.
Smack in the middle of the marsh, just as we were really starting to enjoy this sense of unity with nature, Pak Rustamin gave us another surprise: we were almost out of fuel. Like it or not, to conserve fuel, we had to row. But actually, with the motor cut off, things were much calmer, and my companions and I enjoyed the exotic ambience of Rawa Aopa even more. We could hear the birdsongs much more clearly, creating a placid harmony.
Our journey across the marsh was now a bit different from before. Several times we traversed clusters of marsh pandanus, and we could see the birds hiding behind the bushes quite clearly.
We stopped off at Pulau Harapan, the Island of Hope, in the middle of Rawa Aopa to gaze at the natural panorama of the marsh and the water birds diving for fish, and continued by flat-bottomed skiff, or sampan. Unfortunately, the huts and the dock on the island were neglected and in poor repair.
This marsh is a basin where several rivers converge, including the Konaweha ad the Lahumbuti. The marsh water then runs below the surface and reemerges in the Pohara Valley as the Pohara River, the main water supply for the population of Kendari.
The marsh covers an area of over 30,000 hectares, but not all of it lies within the National Park – only 10,881 ha of the upstream part. The best time to visit is between June and October.
To conserve the marsh ecosystem, the community living near the marsh has established the Marsh Conservation Community Solidarity Association, or AKMAPER, which is currently headed by Rustamin, the man who took us out on Rawa Aopa that afternoon, with assistance from CARE International.
Source: Garuda Inflight Magazine