|Wasur area, which in fact comprises 11 other villages, has been established as a National Park since March 24, 1990. The designated area measures 413,810 hectares. It is the first National Park in Indonesia which incorporates existing villages, and encourages the residents to take part in managing the Park and the natural resources. It has been officially prepared and developed by both the Forestry Department and the World Wildlife Fondation (WWF) Wasur National Park Project.
The Park is located on the southern coast of Irian Jaya, to the east of the Merauke city and on to the borderline between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. An asphalt road, which is part of the Trans Irian Jaya road and eventually connects Merauke, Wamena and Jayapura (currently under construction) stretches across the park.
Its history started in 1974. At the time, the Forestry Department designated a 4,000-hectare plot surrounding Rawa Biru Lake as a Nature Reserve, mainly intended to protect the Rawa Biru lake, the one and only water source for the Merauke city. In 1962, the Dutch colonial government installed a water pump near the lake and pipeline from there to the Merauke city. To date the city’s need for water is supplied by this lake.
Wasur National Park is dominated with typical lowland swampy forest, and swampy savannah. The condition changed remarkably following seasonal change. In the dry season, the swampy area dries up completely. Water start filling the area during the wet season, and flooding a lot of other low-lying areas as well. This ecosystems has a kind of similarity with Kakandu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory, around Darwin.
Several species of Fauna, i.e. Marsupialia Sp. and other pouch-bearing animals, are typical fauna from this kind of ecosystem, now protected in the Park. The wetlandsof the Park area constitutes some of the most important ones in Indonesia for birds. The area also served as a temporal migration stop for Australian and New Zealand birds. The likely list contains more than 114 species which are given protection in Indonesia, including 74 species endemic to Irian Jaya such as the Bird of Paradise.
Several species of the kangaroo, which are always identically associated with the ones living in Australia continental Australia, are found in a great number. They are of course the original species of Irian Jaya.
Another species of Fauna living in this park is deer (Cervus Timorensis). These are migrating animals. According to Father Boelaars in his book, the deer ancestors from Merauke were released to the Merauke forest in 1928. Since then, the deer population has risen rapidly.
People from the Asmat area already reported the existence of deer surrounding their area, crossing at least 4 big rivers, about 450 Km from the original place where the first generation deer were released. This means the deer have kept spreading, and for the time being we cannot neglect deer meat as a major and important source of nutrition for the pepole in Merauke District.
In a particular area of the Park, according to the result of a survei conducted by Frasser-Stewart in 1988, the estimated deer population was 10,000 to 15,000. However, another survey conducted by Silvius and colleagues in 1989 pessimistically estimated there were only about 3,000 to 5,000 deer left.
The last deer monitoring reported in 1991 by Albert Franzman, based on an aerial survey, stated about 7,225 deer were still found inside the Park. Although aerial and land surveys to monitor deer population has always been conducted by WWF and Forestry staff every year, no official deer population estimated has been released after Franzman report.
Why does the deer population fluctuate so much? This may be due to the fact that the deer keep moving from one palce to another. However, after staying in Rawa Biru for 5 months, I found another reasons. Deer slaughters. Professional, but ilegal hunters from Merauke, riding motorbikes, and armed with machetes. It is also not rare to find hunters with guns.
“The professional hunter kills our deer, and the way they hunt the deer has made these animals very sensitive toward people, and has also caused the remaining deer to migrate to more inaccessible remote areas,” said a local.
Now traditional hunting by the villagers, legally allowed, is not an easy job anymore. What is traditional hunting? Why is it legal? It is because traditional hunting has the way the people inside the Wasur National Park hunt and kill deer to meet their nutrition need. Besides functioning to provide food and create an opportunity for the local people to earn a living, the practise helps the Park’s management to control the deer and other animal population.
“We cannot control the illegal hunters, although they steal our deer and hunt them down on our traditional land,” said a Rawa Biru resident, adding that,”we do not have any power to deal with them.”
An old man from another village related a sad story to me. “By the end of 1980s, the time when deer horns collected a good price in a market, in some savannah area, we smell the odor of decomposing deer bodies. The hunter was only interested in the horns and left the rest of the body on the ground. A terrible deer massacre….”
For the people, such massacre has a strong linear impact. The more deer killed, the harder for them to hunt traditionally. This meant it is also harder also for them to earn a living. On the other hand, deer massacre has an equally strong impact on the other animals.
“We cannot approach any animal closely anymore. They become very sensitive when a human being is present,”said another local resident. As a result, the animal is not easy to find.
Unless illegal hunting is stopped, Forestry Office and WWF cannot manage this park under curent circumtances. The only rising problem is illegal hunting, and to solve or at least to keep it under control, the official has to focus their attention. This means giving lesser attention to significant problems as they should basically do.
In the long run, there has to be greater concern for the local people since they are already sacrificing significant part of their life to enable the WWF, Forestry Office and themselves to manage this area properly as a National Park.