Most Indonesians are now aware of the importance of trees for the environment. On a daily basis we see TV advertisements that display the commitment of big companies to the environment through activities such as planting trees.
On visits to various provinces, the forestry minister plants trees. The President and the First Lady have gotten involved by leading the planting one billion trees program.
We also have National Tree Planting Day on Nov. 27. The massive campaigns in the country are in part due to our pledge to reduce carbon emissions by up to 26 percent.
Although the planting of exotic trees nationwide is not ecologically sound and although there have been few success stories resulting from the tree planting program, the massive campaigns disseminate the message that we should plant more trees to save the environment.
I believe that in the future, we will see success from the tree planting program as environmental awareness is growing in the country.
In comparison to animal conservation, we do not see many campaigns on TV supporting animal conservation; however, we do come across news on animal smuggling. Indonesia has failed to stop the illegal trade of wild animals, dead or alive.
If the trend continues, more species of animals will become extinct. To protect wild animals, we must strengthen our conservation efforts.
Apart from legal actions to curb the illegal trade of wildlife, there must be massive campaigns broadcasted on TV that show the importance of animal protection with regards to maintaining a healthy environment.
In the past, we campaigned for animal conservation using posters of large animals facing the threat of extinction such as tigers, bears and elephants.
But for ordinary people living far from forest, those animals are merely zoo animals. We do not encounter them in daily life. We could start campaigns that show the love we have for animals we commonly find in backyard, street trees and city parks such as birds, bats and squirrels.
Birds are naturally cute and funny. Children will love them. Film directors and advertising agencies could easily make short films that advocate animal conservation. Birds and other small animals do not need a vast tract of forest to
They can live in the city as long as we do not kill them. In Townsville, Queensland, Australia I saw many wild species of bird, small and big, in the backyard of the house where I lived, along the streets and especially on university campuses.
I found many turtles and large aquatic birds in the river. On my campus in Bengkulu, I still find several species of birds (not as many as in Queensland), squirrels, monitor lizards and monkeys.
Even single species can support wild life if the companies leave the riparian forests (forests alongside the river) undisturbed. According to Presidential Decree No. 32/1992, the 50 meter- to 100 meter-wide land alongside a river is categorized as protected area.
The natural riparian forests have diverse species of plants that support various species of animals. The interconnected riparian forests also serve as corridor through which large animals move from one forest to another.
While forest degradation and deforestation play a major role in the decline of wildlife population density, it is our attitude toward the animals that pose the biggest threat. Most bird lovers trap birds from the wild and do not breed them. As a result, heavily-sought species of birds are now rare. Some birds are killed for their meat. We can easily find people carrying homemade rifles to shoot birds.
Other wild animals are caught and sold as pets while some others are killed for meat and traditional medicine.
To protect our wildlife, we need to change our attitude. The massive tree planting and animal conservation campaigns must continue.
While large carnivores require large conservation areas, many small to medium size wild animals can live happily among us, in our backyard, in trees and in city parks. We can live harmoniously with wildlife.
The writer is a lecturer at the University of Bengkulu’s School of Forestry.