Indonesia’s forests contain an estimated 4,000 species of trees, 30,000 flowering plant species, 500 species of mammals, more than 1,500 species of birds, and 5,000 varieties of orchids. The flora of Indonesia ranges from the tiny orchid to the giant rafflesia plant—the largest flower in the world (up to three feet across). Many of these plants and animals are only found on these islands.
Plants are integral to local life across Indonesia’s many islands. Local people use approximately 6,000 species of plants for traditional herbal medicines and for important rituals and ceremonies.
Indonesia has just one percent of the world’s land area, but this country is home to more than 10 percent of all mammal species and 17 percent of all birds. Indonesia has more known mammal species than any other country in the world. It also has more endangered mammals than any other country, including the endangered orangutan, Javan rhinoceros, Komodo dragon, Sumatran tiger, and Sumatran elephant.
Scientists are still discovering several new species each year, especially on Borneo and in the highlands of Papua.
The large mammals of western Indonesia arrived from the north when the islands were covered with dense jungle. They remain only where lowland forest is still intact. The greatest threat to their existence, other than poaching, is the clearing of forest for agriculture and intensive logging.
The Asian elephant is the largest mammal on earth. In Indonesia, it roams the wilds of Sumatra and Kalimantan. The largest populations are concentrated in Way Kambas National Park and the Air Sugihan Reserve in South Sumatra.
Most visitors to Indonesia hope to see the Sumatran tiger. However, this beautiful animal rarely shows itself. Unfortunately, human development has already pushed two other tiger species in Indonesia into extinction. The Javan tiger was declared extinct in 1994 and the Balinese tiger was last seen several decades before that. Fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers are left in the wild and the number is dropping steadily.
If habitat destruction and poaching across Asia are not stopped, wild tigers have just a few years to survive. Tiger bones and body parts are sold on the black market for use in traditional Chinese medicines. This demand alone is putting tremendous pressure on these beautiful animals. Meanwhile, the forests where they live are being destroyed for timber, mining, and farming.
The orangutan is the only great ape found in Asia and it is highly endangered because of habitat destruction and illegal poaching. Orangutans live in the wet and hot forests of Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo).
The orangutan is one of the most impressive and famous apes in the world. The orangutan is the largest tree-dwelling animal on the planet and the second-largest great ape behind the gorilla. A full grown male is as large as a man, but several times stronger. The mature male has large, fleshy cheek pads and a heavy throat pouch. It can weigh more than 250 pounds. The full-grown female is about half that weight.
Adult orangutans have an intelligence level similar to that of a five-year-old child. They move through the forest high in the canopy,swinging from tree to tree. Orangutans range over large areas in pursuit of food, including fruit, bark, leaves, flowers, and insects. They live a nomadic lifestyle that depends on food availability. The current number of wild orangutans is estimated at fewer than 60,000 animals on both Sumatra and Borneo combined. There were twice as many just 10 years ago.
There are only about 3,000 – 5,000 Komodo dragons alive in the wild and they are limited to a few volcanic islands in Indonesia. The island of Komodo is now a nature reserve where the dragon is protected. The dragon is a large and deadly monitor lizard with close ancestors that date back more than 100 million years. It is the largest living lizard in the world (averaging 10 feet long and 200 pounds), but not the largest reptile(alligators and crocodiles can grow larger).
The world of the Komodo dragon is restricted to the Lesser Sunda Islands of Rinca, Komodo, Flores and the smaller islands of Gili Montangand Padar. The natural habitat of the dragon is extremely harsh by human standards. These arid, volcanic islands have steep slopes and little freshwater most of the year. Dragons are most abundant in the lower forests and savannas. They are an endangered species because they have such a small habitat in just one region of the world. An ecological disaster in this area,such as a major volcanic eruption, could push them into extinction.
The one-horned Javan rhinoceros is only found in Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java. As late as the 1880s, thousands of these animals roamed all over the island of Java. Then the colonial Dutch government put a bounty on them to rid the island of these pests. In just 40 years, the rhino faced extinction on Java. The Dutch then created the Ujung Kulon Wildlife Reserve in 1921 on the southwestern tip of the island to give the remaining animals a chance to survive. The reserve became a national park in 1981.
This animal is extremely rare, with just 40-50 animals remaining in the wild.
Despite their size, Javan rhinos move quickly and quietly through tangles of vines and thick walls of jungle shrubs. By lowering their heads, the animals move like huge wedges that push the undergrowth up and over their backs as they plow through the thick vegetation.
The forests of Sumatra also support the Sumatran rhinoceros,the smaller cousin to the Javan rhino. As with many other species around the world, it is threatened by loss of its natural habitat. Poaching also threatens its existence. Tracks have been seen in the swamps of Kalimantan, which indicate that a few of these creatures also may still be alive on the island of Borneo.
Indonesia is home to 17 percent of the world’s known bird species. There also are more endangered bird species here than anywhere else on earth. Sumatra and Kalimantan alone have some 450 species of birds. There are more than 300 bird species on Bali and Java. In Maluku, signs start to appear of the influence of Australian birds, most noticeably the parrots and cockatoos. The hornbill is a cornerstone of the arts and culture of the Dayak tribes of Kalimantan.
Indonesia’s 17,500 islands compose the largest and most varied archipelago on earth and span more than 3,100 miles from Asia to Australia. The country is more than 80 percent water, which includes more than 80,000 kilometers of coastline—equal to nearly one-third of the earth’s circumference. This vast coastline offers more coral reefs than any other place in the world.
Indonesia lies in the middle of the Indo-Pacific basin. This region extends from the Indian Ocean waters off East Africa all the way to the Hawaiian and Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. The trench is a term used to describe the seam of two tectonic plates deep under the oceans in the area.An upheaval along this trench caused the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the deadly tsunami that killed thousands of people throughout the region, on December 26, 2004.
Indonesia has more coral reefs than any other place on earth. They are fed by rich nutrients in the ocean currents. These islands hold about 10 to 15 percent of the world’s coral reefs, many of which are still unknown. There are more than 500 species of coral throughout these islands,including some of the most colorful species on the planet.
These waters are home to 3,000 species of fish and 30 species of whales and dolphins. The Sulawesi Sea is the equivalent of a highway for sperm whales, dolphins, and other large marine life, such as sea turtles and manta rays. There are more species of fish, coral, and other marine life found in Indonesian waters than in any other country.
You could spend your entire life in Indonesia and not experience the entire country. Unfortunately many of these wild places and their inhabitants won’t be around forever, so pick some of these threatened destinations and pack your bags for Indonesia.
Indonesia is the fourth-largest nation in the world with more than 267 million people. The country is comprised of more than 17,500 islands, including Bali, Borneo, Java, Lombok, Sumatra and Sulawesi. Learn more about Indonesia.