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Wehea-Kelay Landscape, Primate Ecotourism Potential from East Kalimantan

hutan wehea
Borneo, Indonesia The dense tropical Wehea forest in the Kalimantan region of Borneo, Indonesia. © Bridget Besaw
Wehea Forest
Wehea-Kelay Hutan Wehea tropis yang lebat di wilayah Kalimantan Kalimantan, Indonesia. © Bridget Besaw

Not only famous for its marine tourism with the Derawan and Maratua islands, East Kalimantan also has a series of beautiful natural tourism potentials, namely from karst ecosystems, rivers and forests. "East Kalimantan is preparing a benchmark ecotourism roadmap nationally and internationally," said Head of the East Kalimantan Provincial Tourism Office Sri Wahyuni in the webinar "Development of Natural and Primate Ecotourism in the Wehea-Kelay Landscape, East Kalimantan" on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.

This online webinar was filled with speakers from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, namely the Director General of Natural Resources and Ecosystem Conservation Wiratno, Chair of the Wehea-Kelay Essential Ecosystem Area (EEA) Forum Ence Achmad Rafiddin Rizal, Head of the East Kalimantan Provincial Tourism Office Sri Wahyuni, and Professors Conservation Biology FMIPA University of Indonesia Prof. Dr. Jatna Supriatna. The moderator is the Senior Manager of Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara, Niel Makinuddin.

Currently, the Provincial Government of East Kalimantan is starting to map and study the potential for ecotourism to be developed. "Later on, the provincial government will set a number of ecotourism pilot projects that represent each typology," said Head of the East Kalimantan Provincial Tourism Office Sri Wahyuni. This means that East Kalimantan will have ecotourism pilots representing rivers, seas, forests and caves.

Professor Jatna said conservation area management needed a new paradigm. Indeed, conservation needs can be aligned with tourism development by carrying out the sustainable tourism paradigm which is usually applied through the concept of ecotourism. In this case, the community is the subject and the main beneficiary by developing the area based on the needs of the community. "We need to focus on human creativity," he said.

Professor Jatna sees that East Kalimantan, which has high biodiversity, has a great opportunity to develop wildlife tours. He said, “It would be interesting if Wehea-Kelay could be developed, especially since this area has endemic animals with critical status, namely orangutans. Orangutans can become primate tourism icons that attract many tourists. People all over the world are definitely interested in seeing endangered animals.”

The Chair of the Wehea-Kelay EEA Forum, Ence Achmad, said that saving orangutans was a key stakeholder in the Wehea-Kelay Landscape. A total of 23 forum members representing forestry concession permit holders, oil palm concession holders, academics, environmental activists, local governments, and representatives of the Ministry of the Environment collaborated to manage an area of 532 thousand hectares. One of the results of this collaboration is the identification of the orangutan population, which is estimated at around 1,200 individuals. "We want to further develop this area into an educational area, an ecotourism area that can go hand in hand with a productive economic area," said Ence Achmad.

Director General of KSDAE Wiratno reminded that the potential of renewable resources in East Kalimantan is enormous. "But indeed to manage it, there needs to be multi-stakeholder collaboration (inclusive), big designs, joint designs, including with politicians," he said on the same occasion. Wiratno also agreed with Professor Jatna's explanation that the management of conservation areas must be community-based, the community being the main important actor. "I see the optimism is there, hopefully Wehea-Kelay can become a prototype," said Wiratno. He asked that the issue of the management of Wehea-Kelay be discussed more often at the site level, starting from the coffee shops along the Wehea-Kelay road, to the policy makers.

YKAN Senior Manager Niel Makinuddin added that the development of primate ecotourism in East Kalimantan still has a long way to go. However, this province has an advantage, because it has started with collaboration. "It's just a matter of mobilizing existing resources, both human, capital, and natural," said Niel. If it is well managed, it would be better to start with a pilot project. From these little things, it can then be replicated elsewhere. The Wehea-Kelay Landscape is ready to host the pilot project.

Senior Advisor to PT Gunung Gajah Abadi Soeyitno Soedirman appreciated the ecotourism management ideas in Wehea-Kelay. As a representative of entrepreneurs located in the area, Professor Soeyitno said collaboration was needed to develop an ecotourism master plan. This master plan will cover potential mapping, regional zoning (conservation and economy), as well as the division of roles among stakeholders. “We encourage multi-business in the forestry sector, because there is still a lot of potential that needs to be developed in production forest areas,” said Professor Soeyitno.

Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN) is a scientific-based non-profit organization that has been present in Indonesia since 2014. With the mission of protecting lands and waters as life support systems, we provide innovative solutions to realize the harmony of nature and humans through effective natural resource management, prioritizing a non-confrontational approach, and building a network of partnerships with all stakeholders for a sustainable Indonesia. For more information, visit