- Kerinci Seblat National Park on the Indonesian island of Sumatra has lost more than 4% of its primary forest cover over the past 20 years, satellite data from Global Forest Watch show.
- Much of the deforestation is driven by nearby communities logging and farming, in particular potatoes, and possibly also illegal gold mining.
- The park hosts a diversity of wildlife like nowhere else — tigers, elephants, helmeted hornbills and barking deer, among others — but these are now threatened by loss of habitat and poaching.
- Kerinci Seblat was at one point a stronghold of the Sumatran rhino, but this critically endangered species has since gone extinct from the park.
At almost 1.4 million hectares (3.4 million acres), a little smaller than the U.S. state of Connecticut, Kerinci Seblat National Park is the second-largest park in Indonesia, and a jewel of the island of Sumatra. It’s also home to the largest tiger population left in the country.
But Kerinci Seblat continues to lose forest to local people clearing it for agriculture and illegal logging. Satellite imagery and data show ongoing, continuous incursions into the park’s rainforest.
Surprisingly, the cause may be due in part to the humble potato.
“Most of the potatoes in Jambi [province] come from Kerinci [Seblat National Park],” a trader told Mongabay earlier this year.
Between 2002 and 2022, Kerinci Seblat lost 55,200 hectares (136,400 acres), according to satellite data from Global Forest Watch, amounting to a loss of 4.3% of its primary forest cover. Worryingly, it’s lost more forest in recent years than in the first decade of the century. Between 2016 and 2022 Kerinci Seblat lost more than half of the total during that two-decade period.
Recent reporting by Mongabay found that much of the farming around and inside Kerinci Seblat is for cultivating potatoes. According to the government statistics agency in Jambi province, in 2020 potato crops covered 5,630 hectares (13,912 acres) in Jambi, one of four provinces straddled by Kerinci Seblat. Potatoes became a popular crop in the region after the price for cinnamon collapsed in the late 1990s. However, cinnamon trees remain a staple in the area, alongside tomatoes, coffee, cloves and rubber.
Illegal logging is also on the rise, according to data from Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry. There have also been accusations of land grabbing and corruption by officials. Past reports by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) have found signs of illegal mining for gold along the rivers. Notably, some recent deforestation has occurred along rivers draining out of the eastern portion of the park. Mongabay was unable to confirm if this was linked to mining.
Other recent hotspots of deforestation this year include around Mount Kerinci, the largest mountain in Sumatra and an active volcano, most of which is protected by the park. Clearings have also proliferated in the northwest of the park near its border, just north of Lake Kerinci. New deforestation is also cutting across the central portion of the park from east to west.
These threats have put Kerinci Seblat, and nearby parks, on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger since 2011. At the time, Kerinci Seblat faced the threat of numerous new road projects; however, those have since been cancelled. But deforestation has not let up, continuing year by year to encroach deeper into the park.
Established in 1982, Kerinci Seblat is home to a stunning amount of biodiversity. So far, researchers have documented some 4,000 species of plants in the park, 370 birds and 85 mammals.
Perhaps most famously, Kerinci Seblat is the best last stand for the critically endangered Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica). A report this year by FFI estimated 128 tigers live in the park and adjoining areas. This is nearly a third of the world’s population of Sumatran tigers; approximately 400 tigers survive on the island in total. The site is also listed as a TX2 Tiger Conservation Landscape by the NGOs WWF and RESOLVE, where effective conservation efforts could double tiger numbers.
In addition to habitat loss, poaching has also been an issue in the park and contributed to a decline in the tiger population, but FFI hasn’t found any tiger snares in the park so far this year.
Sumatran tigers aren’t the only rare animals safeguarded by Kerinci Seblat; the park is also home to Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus), Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica), helmeted hornbills (Rhinoplax vigil) and Sumatran ground cuckoos (Carpococcyx viridis) — all critically endangered. Other notable, threatened species include the Sumatran dhole (Cuon alpinus sumatrensis), Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) and Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus).
The park is also the only known home to the Sumatran muntjac (Muntiacus montanus), a “barking deer” that was lost to science for more than 70 years. There’s still debate over whether the muntjac is a subspecies of the southern red muntjac, Muntiacus muntjak, or its own full species. Kerinci Seblat also used to harbor Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), and was once thought a stronghold for that species, but the animal is now extinct there.
The once expansive lowland forests surrounding Kerinci Seblat have been largely decimated — Sumatra has lost more than half of its forests — leaving parks like Kerinci Seblat as the last stand for wildlife, carbon storage and water security on the island. At the same time, Sumatra’s human population has grown from 42 million in 2000 to nearly 60 million people last year.
Banner image of a Sumatran tiger by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
Editor’s Note:This story is powered by Places to Watch, a Global Forest Watch (GFW) initiative designed to quickly identify concerning forest loss around the world and catalyze further investigation of these areas. Places to Watch draws on a combination of near-real-time deforestation alerts, automated algorithms and field intelligence to identify new areas on a monthly basis. In partnership with Mongabay, GFW is supporting data-driven journalism by providing data and maps generated by Places to Watch. Mongabay maintains complete editorial independence over the stories reported using this data. Sign up for GFW’s monthly email updates featuring these stories.
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