Nurni Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, Tarakan
Tarakan in East Kalimantan is home to the Mangrove and Bekantan Conservation Area (KKMB), believed to be the only mangrove forest located in a city center in Indonesia, if not the world. It is situated on Jl. Gajah Mada, adjacent to downtown Gusher Plaza.
The 9-hectare mangrove park is home to 45 rare proboscis monkeys, 11 species of mangrove, hundreds of black and gray monkeys, otters, rare Bondol eagles and a vast range of other flora and fauna.
"Its location in the heart of the city expedites the learning and research process. Generally, mangrove forests are located along the coast, so much so that a study or research group must rent boats to reach the location. This place is easily reached overland. You just have to take a ride on a public minivan to reach it," said KKMB field coordinator Dullah Kadir.
The entrance fee to the park is only Rp 2,000 (20 U.S. cents) for an adult and Rp 1,000 for a child. Earnings from ticket sales are set aside for environmental causes.
Visitors can also use the service of a guide for Rp 20,000 per hour. "The mangrove park is usually full of visitors, especially parents and their children on weekends," said Kadir.
Visitors can walk around the park by means of a boardwalk that encircles the park at 2.4 kilometers long and 80 centimeters wide.
Encounters with animals are common. Despite the timid nature of the proboscis monkeys, or bekantan, it is not unusual to be able to get within five meters of them. Black and gray monkeys, or lutung, are more used to humans and can be approached by visitors up to a meter.
They roam freely on the boardwalk, in the trees and on the ground, where they look for small fish or crabs.
"Black monkeys are the most agile in searching for crabs," said a security guard, Syamsul.
There were initially 47 bekantan in the park, but two of them died due to old age.
An adult male bekantan can weigh up to 20 kilograms, while adult females weigh around 10 kilos.
Bekantan are protected under the 1990 law on natural resources conservation and ecosystems.
Physically, a bekantan is different from other primates, in that it has special features, such as a long orange pendulous nose, reddish orange head and back, light orange shoulders, cheeks and neck and grayish white feet, tail and stomach.
The bekantan, which are endemic to Kalimantan, survive on mangrove shoots and blooms, and occasionally descend to the ground in search of crabs.
"Bekantan are deft in finding crabs by using their tails to lure them out and later catch them with their hands," said Kadir.
Bekantan breed in mangrove swamps, river rain forests, peat moss swamps and coastal forests. They are sensitive and vulnerable animals, so much so they breed slower than the black monkey.
Visiting hours at the mangrove park are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park also offers a 16-meter observation tower, from the top of which visitors can see the sea to the west, the densely packed coastal communities, Tarakan city and the spread of dense and green mangrove trees.
"The place is mesmerizing," Tarakan City Secretary H. Jusuf told The Jakarta Post.
The city plans to expand the park by taking over an adjacent 13 hectares of land, and is currently building a 30-meter steel tower in the park.
"We initially intended to build houses on the 13 hectares but I was amazed to see the mangrove trees grow so well, so I immediately submitted a proposal to the municipal council to include the area as an expansion of the conservation area. The area, which has been extended to 22 hectares, is crucial because it acts as the lungs of the city," said Jusuf.