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Wildfires, which have been sparked by the current severe drought affecting large swathes of Indonesia, have been spreading through the Way Kambas National Park, East Lampung regency, Lampung province.
In the past five days alone, 150 hectares of the park, mostly consisting of bush and scrubland, have been destroyed by fires, thereby bringing the total area of scorched land to more than 900 hectares, in a park whose total area amounts to 125,000 hectares.
The park’s spokesman, Sukatmono, said on Tuesday that the fires had been caused primarily by animal poachers, who often burned bushes as a way to drive animals, such as boars and deer, out into the open.
“I’m convinced that the fires were partly caused by reckless conduct on the part of hunters,” Sukatmono said, adding that flames had also destroyed 60 hectares of forest planted as part of the National Forest Rehabilitation Movement, which was implemented in 2010 and 2011.
Not all the flames had been extinguished as of Tuesday, despite the deployment of two fire trucks.
Hendrawan, director of the Lampung chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), expressed his doubts, however, over the cause of the fires. “Illegal poachers are always being blamed for these fires, but why have none of them been captured?” he asked.
Sugiyo, an activist with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia, said the vast scorched areas in the park would threaten the preservation of habitats of endangered wild animals, such as elephants, rhinoceros and Sumatran tigers. Sugiyo said the rhinoceros breeding program in the park would be wasted if the fires were not prevented.
“Fires in the Way Kambas National Park are very serious because the park is the site of a pilot rhinoceros conservation program. It will be meaningless to save the rhinos under the conservation program if other rhinos’ lives are endangered by fires and poachers,” he said.
“For years, the park management has blamed poachers for the fires during the dry season, but not a single poacher has so far been captured,” he said.
Walhi Lampung data shows that of the 125,621 hectares that make up the Way Kambas National Park, only 60 percent remain intact, with the other 40 percent covered by bushes, which are highly flammable. Large trees, including gelam, kemang, medang, meranti, nibung and pule, have also been recklessly felled by illegal loggers.
The danger of forest fires also looms in other areas across Sumatra and Kalimantan, where most of the land is covered by tropical forests.
In Jambi, the local office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) predicted that forest fires in the province would be worsened by the absence of rainfall for most of this month.
Bahar said the weather during the coming two weeks would be very dry and without rain, thereby raising the possibility of an increase in forest fires, which would cause thick haze.
“Rain will possibly start to fall at the beginning of October,” Bahar said as quoted by Antara news agency.
He added that the number of hot spots detected across Jambi had also increased steadily from one on Aug. 29, to 72 on Sept. 1.
In Musi Rawas regency, South Sumatra, more than 54 hot spots have been detected over the last few days.
“These hot spots were caused mainly by forest fires across 10 districts,” Tri Retiyanto of the Musi Rawas Forestry Office said on Tuesday.
He attributed the large number of hot spots to the people who converted forests for agricultural purposes by burning the areas.
In Central Kalimantan, at least 49 hot spots were also detected on Monday. Most of the hotspots were located in Pulang Pisau and South Barito regencies.