Six Villages of Wehea Inaugurate 300,000-hectares Indigenous Forest in East Kutai

Customary institutions from six villages in Wehea, namely Nehas Liah Bing, Long Wehea, Jak Luay, Benhes, Dia Beq, and Diak Lay, inaugurated an indigenous forest on a 325,842-hectares land in East Kutai regency, East Borneo, on 12 August 2015. The inauguration ceremony was attended by officials from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Rosa Vivien Ratnawati (Director of Tenurial and Indigenous Conflict Management) and Jonny Purba (Head of Environmental Wisdom Division), also the Mayor of East Kutai, Ardiansyah Sulaiman.

Kementrian LHK Hadir dalam pengukuhan hutan adat WeheaThe mapping process on the area started at the beginning of 2015, by the youngsters of Wehea lead by Yatim, the coordinator of the rangers of Wehea protection forest. The claim on the indigenous forest  is based on linguistic similarities of the people, ancient relics such as 'punden', ancient tombs, and others.

The inauguration of the Wehea indigenous forest was a result of a tough and long effort of the Dayak Wehea people, with support from organizations like Protection of Forest & Fauna (PROFAUNA) and Vivat International. Previously, on 5-7 December 2013, representatives from those six villages held a congress at Long Sekung Meguen (Wehea protection forest) to strive for an acknowledgement of their existence and territory, as well as of the Wehea protection forest.

On 22 February 2015, representatives from the six villages, assisted by Vivat International and Padma Foundation, appeared before the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the National Commission on Human Rights to deliver their appeals:

  • Acknowledgment of Dayak Wehea people and their rights as a part of indigenous entity in Indonesia.
  • Moratorium on any commercial permit that might threaten the indigenous forest, custom, and environment such as palm oil plantation, mining, concession, and production forest.
  • Revocation of all mining permit, and moratorium for new permit within the indigenous territory of Dayak Wehea, East Kutai, East Borneo.

Demo PROFAUNA tolak tambang di WeheaOn 16 April 2015, PROFAUNA Indonesia supported their struggle by staging a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry building, bringing up the issue of "No Mining in Wehea Forest". On the occasion, PROFAUNA had a dialogue with the ministry and demanded that the ministry visit Wehea to see and understand the people's effort in protecting the forest.

"The customary inauguration of Wehea forest, which encompasses an area larger than 300,000 hectares, is a big leap because the management of this forest need to be conducted in a comprehensive and integrated manner. We hope that the government would support the efforts of the indigenous people," said Bayu Sandi, the coordinator of PROFAUNA Borneo.

High diversity of mammals

Currently, the government already acknowledges the 38,000-hectares Wehea protection forest which is managed by the customary institution of Nehas Liah Bing village. This forest is home to various wildlife species, including mammals. Based on the research conducted by Rustam from Mulawarman University, who is also a member of PROFAUNA's advisory board, Wehea protection forest is inhabited by more than 61 mammal species.

Among the mammals found in Wehea protection forest are rare and has high conservation status. They are also listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 7 species are Near Threatened, 14 species are Vulnerable, 4 species are Endangered, and 1 species is Critically Endangered. CITES' appendices also include 5 species in Appendix 1, 11 species in Appendix 2, and 2 species in Appendix 3. Additionally, 17 species of the mammals are protected by the country, as mentioned in Government's Regulation no. 7 of 1999.

The mammals identified are those who depend on pristine forest to survive. Four species of big cats (Felidae) out of five that are found in Borneo indicates that the ecological function of Wehea protection forest is performing well.

The Felidae family is a group of top predators, with the largest species occurs in Borneo being the Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi). This species is known to inhabit only tropical pristine forest with minimum disturbance, as well as its relatives, the Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata) and the Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia).

"The large-scaled concept of protecting the 300,000-hectares Wehea forest is expected to give a better chance of sustainability for the forest and wildlife," claimed Bayu Sandi.

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ProFauna Indonesia is an Indonesian society for the protection of
wild animals and their habitats