Rangers patrolling the Way Kambas National Park (TNWK) in Lampung claim to have sighted dozens of pygmies in a number of areas across the park.
According to them, the pygmies sport dreadlocks, measure no more than 50 centimeters tall and do not wear any clothing.
“A number of rangers claim the pygmies grow their dreadlocks down to their waist. The first sighting by the rangers was on March 17 at 6:40 p.m. local time,” said TNWK spokesman Sukatmoko.
He added that several rangers patrolling the park claimed the pygmies were seen moving to the PT Nusantara Tropical Fruit (NTF) plantation. They were seen running from the TNWK forest to the plantation.
“Apparently, many fruit trees, such as banana, guava and dragon fruit, are grown in the NTF plantation area. If the pygmies like fruit, they might have entered the plantation for food,” said Sukatmoko.
Forest rangers have secured a number of points at the border between TNWK and PT NTF, concerned that the safety of the pygmies is at stake due to the presence of many workers at the plantation.
“We will try to anticipate the situation with the help of local residents and PT NTF employees. If they come across the pygmies, they should not harm them,” he said.
Sukatmoko said that based on information conveyed by forest rangers, the group of pygmies consisted of around 15 individuals. When the rangers spotted them, the pygmies, believed to be an isolated group of people, were walking through a swamp.
“The rangers monitored their presence for around 15 minutes from a distance of around 35 meters. When the rangers were about to approach them, they immediately hid behind trees and vanished. They ran very fast,” said Sukatmoko.
He added that on March 20, patrolling rangers sighted the pygmies again in the same place, but this time they observed from further away and for a shorter time.
Sukatmoko said his office was unsure whether the pygmies had always lived in TNWK, or whether they were newcomers from other islands. To record their presence, the TNWK center has installed surveillance cameras in the forest.
“We can record pictures of the pygmies at night. After it’s proven they exist, we will immediately inform the Forestry Ministry, or even the President,” he said.
Sukatmoko promised his office would protect the pygmies and not disturb them.
“We believe they really exist in TNWK. We’re making strenuous efforts to find them. In the event that we do, we hope the government protects them. Our rangers have seen them with their own eyes, but have yet to take pictures of them,” he said, adding the center had allowed academics and researchers to trace and study the group.
Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Lampung chapter campaign director Mukri Friatna said the pygmies had been sighted in a number of forests in Indonesia, such as in Kerinci Seblat (West Sumatra), Liang Bua (Flores) and Bone (South Sulawesi).
“In Kerinci Seblat, they are known as the orang pendek [short people], in Flores as homo floresiensis, and in Bone as members of the Oni tribe. In Mount Kerinci, the creature is depicted as having inverted legs but is very agile among the dense foliage,” said Mukri.
TNWK, located in East Lampung, covers 125,000 hectares. The forest, more than 40 percent of which has been damaged, is home to the Sumatran elephant, rhinoceros, tigers and a number of other rare wildlife species.