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Anoa: On the Brink of Extinction

A caretaker at the Bontonmarannu Education Park is feeding dried leaves to a pair of anoas. The pair was captured from different sites but are being put in one cage for breeding. Photo by Ancha Hardiansya.

October 25, 2018

By Ancha Hardiansya

Makassar, SOUTH SULAWESI. Despite the birth of a female anoa (Buballus sp.), a breath of fresh air for conservationists, at the Anoa Breeding Center in Manado in North Sulawesi, last July, the practice of hunting and consuming the meat of the native species of Indonesia, remain to be imminent threats to its existence.

In 2007, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced the two types of anoas, — lowland anoa (Bubalus depressicornis) and mountain anoa (Bubalus quarlesi) –, as endangered species.

Manado Center of Environment and Forestry Research and Development (BP2LHK) and Anoa Breeding Center (ABC) estimate less than 2,500 individuals roamed Sulawesi in 2008.

Ady Suryawan, an anoa researcher at BP2LHK, said that anoa population has been decreasing in the past 20 years. “Based on our research, there is up to 15 percent decline of anoa population annually,” said Suryawan adding that Indonesia issued a law that protects the endangered animal in 1999.

The declining number, he said, was caused by several factors, but, mainly because the meat is believed to be high in protein and low in fat. And those who eat it claimed, it tastes better than deer meat.

In addition to human consumption, he said the local people also hunt anoa for its mythical power in repelling black magic, locally known as santet.

Adhil, a Barangka villager of Buton district, Southeast Sulawesi, said that most  local villagers trully believe in the myth and hang anoa horns in their home, to protect them from any harms of black magic.

“I don’t know when that myth started, but most people believe that anoa horns can repel santet,” he said adding his own uncle was a great anoa hunter.

As anoa is being hunted, he said it is getting more difficult to find the animal, also known as midget buffalo. “I remember around three to five years ago, anoas still come to villagers’ houses. And, that’s when they hunt them,” he said.

In Tole, a village in Luwu district, South Sulawesi, Tasman admitted to hunting the endemic species together with a few others from his village. Though Tasman denied killing it, he went on to say that anoa meat is much more delicious than deer meat.

Tole village, inaugurated in January 2018, is recorded as one of anoa habitats, hence interaction between humans and anoa is common. “Anoa eats almost every type of plants, so they are considered as pests, that’s why [we] hunt them if they come to the village,” said Tasman to Ekuatorial.com in August.

Adhil and Tasman said that they no longer deliberately hunt anoa because they now are aware of the legal repercussions. But that will not, they said, stop them from killing an anoa, if they see the animal entering the village.

Warian Djatmika, Head of the North Buton Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), said that hunting anoa is a culture deeply rooted in the region. Djatmika said despite the law in place, local villagers still set up traps. The poor ratio of staff per area has also become a challenge in cordoning the protected area from illegal hunting activities.

“We know that people are still hunting [anoa]. But, when we catch them trapping anoa, they have always cited economic reasons. Officers find it difficult to charge them,” he said. “If there was anoa found in the houses, they always said that they caught it by accident.”

The local authorities nearly arrested two Lepanggeng villagers of Sidrap district, who allegedly were conducting illegal trading on a social media platform, Facebook, last January.

Authorities confiscated the anoa, but both of them escaped the arrest and are still on the run.

A young anoa rescued by the Anoa Brigade of the Sulawesi Forestry and Environment Agency. The anoa was captured from villagers of Leppangeng who were trading it on Facebook. Photo by Ancha Hardiansya.

Muhammad Nur, head of Law Enforcement of the Sulawesi Forestry and Environment Agency, said they have difficulties in charging anoa illegal traders as there is a lack of public support.

Nur said people tend to hide anoa in their homes. “If there’s any indication of hunting or selling [anoa], [they should] report it to us immediately,” he said.

 

Temporary shelter

Due to insufficient conservation area, officials have handed over confiscated anoa from villagers to the zoo. The North Buton BKSDA have sent at least two animals to the zoo in East Java.

While the Bontonmaranu Education Park, in Gowa district, South Sulawesi, a wildlife park owned by a local private firm, Citra Satwa Celebes, have also been taking anoa from villagers and handing them over to the local BKSDA.

Mukhlis Amans Hadi, director of Bontonmaranu Education Park, explained that they take anoa directly from villagers and report them to the BKSDA. “The villagers usually notify us that they set up traps for anoa in the forest,” said Hadi, adding that they currently have six anoas in the park.

The handing over of the native animal of Sulawesi to the zoo is abled as the Indonesia Zoo and Aquarium Association is a member of Anoa Observer Forum, established in 2015. The forum launched its 2016-2036 Anoa Research Center Roadmap comprising of five conservation programs but they have yet to be fully implemented.

However, a law on Natural Resources and Ecosystem issued in 1990 prohibited zoos from directly taking endangered and protected animals from members of the public before court process is completed.

South Sulawesi BKSDA said they understand this practice as there’s little public awareness about the agency and its role. “We understand that not many are aware of BKSDA, so they usually go straight to the zoo,” said the South Sulawesi BKSDA Head of Technical Unit, Supriyanto.

However, he said that the practice is only allowed for zoos that has conservation institution status. Bontonmaranu Education Park, he added, has already been certified as a conservation institution, so they need to report their findings to the agency.

Supriyanto added, there shouldn’t be any financial rewards in turning anoa in, as it will further encourage the public to hunt the animal.

“Anoas under shelter in breeding centers run by conservation institutions are only temporary placement. They will have to be returned to the state once they are ready to be released,” he said.

 

Striking a balance in both worlds

Aside from illegal hunting and trading of anoa, other factors that are pushing the animal to the brink of extinction are habitat loss and low breeding rates.

Retni Iswarin Pujianungsih, an animal expert from Diponegoro University of Semarang said anoa can be protected by balancing the ex situ and in situ conservation efforts.

A challenging feat, Pujianingsih added. The ex situ conservation faces two challenges of its own; high cost and shortage of anoa medical expert, while the in situ conservation is shackled by the depletion of native anoa habitat.

“[Land] expansion and forest conversions to agriculture areas are shrinking the natural food supplies of anoa,” she said.

Rahma Suryaningsih, Manager of ABC, said that the center only has one vet to care for ten animals. 

With generous donations from three entities, conservation effort by ABC is starting to show result. Three anoas were born in the past three years. “This is the third birth since ABC was inaugurated on 15 February 2015,” she said. “Although the number of new births with anoa that die every year is disproportionate, this effort is not fruitless.”

The largest anoa breeding center, located in the capital of North Sulawesi, is now the home to ten anoas, — three male and seven female.

Meanwhile, Diah Irawati Dwi Arini, member of the team that developed the 2016-2036 Roadmap for the Anoa Study Center, said that anoa conservation is also targeting the release of the third generation.

“It’s a long-term target, but we hope to be able to release them into their natural habitat in 2036,” explained Arini, adding that the three births in Manado’s Anoa Breeding Center were the first generation. EKUATORIAL.

Ancha Hardiansya is a freelance journalist based in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

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