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Flora & fauna
Inhabitants of the rainforest

The exotical animal world of Sumatera was used many times for adventurous books. Big elephants, cars and shy rhino's live in the tropical rainforests full with giant trees, lingering lians and extraordinary flowers. Big primates and many spiecies of birds make Sumatera into an exiting place for nature lovers. But don't expect the African eco-tourism of touring around and making pictures.

It takes many patience and very much time to see the animals. The ideal way is to walk through the jungle quietly, or to find a suitable spot for staying a while. Of just go into the jungle just before sunrise early in the morning, with a flash-light.

Sumatra's biological richness is at one side created by the big number of different habitats, but on the other hand the connection with the main land Asian continent over the last 100.000's of years was also from big importance. There are 196 different spiecies of mamals, almost three times as much as Great-Britain. Twenty of them don't live somewhere else, like various spiecies of bats, five primates, the Sumateran hare, various spiecies of squirrels and the elegant Sumatran weasel.

In the wide rivers at the eastern coast live dozens of big fishes, under which the giang catfish, which can reach lengths upto two metres, but also the world's most expensife aquarium-fish, the arowana or dragonfish. The markets offer a big variety of fish in the morning; some species that crawl on the river beds are even sold alive.

Smaller rivers housen numerous different aquarium fishes like the striped Sumateran, the Javanese mudcrawler and many more. The guppy was introduced in this area when the first managed to escape from an aquarium, brought there by someone from Bandung. Now you can find guppy's in every trench and sawah (rice paddy).

Excavations on Jawa, where the conditions for fossils are better than on Sumatera, have prooved that the Indonesian archipelago used to have a number of big mamals about 70.000 years ago. Now they are exinct. Eight of them were elephants, a giant scaled animal, wild dogs, hyena's and more, have left their fossils.
The extinction of some other spieces in more recent time - the last Jawanese rhino was shot in 1928 on Sumatera. The disappearance of the panther, which still lives on the Malay peninsula and Jawa, is a mystery, because it's well adapted to the miuntains, forests and plains, and a big number of monkeys and deers.

Regional differences

Sumatera's wildlife is not spread equally over the island. On the islands of Simeulue and Enggano, west of Sumatera, the wildlife is not too spectaculair. Possibly these islands were never connected with the mainland. There are no squirrels, but Simeulue knows special variants of the Javanese monkey and the wild swine, three local snakes and twenty local bird spiecies.

The explosion of Danau Toba (Lake Toba), could be of big influence on the spreading of the animals on the island of Sumatra, because with the exhaustion of dry vulcanic ash, a barrier was built. Mammals north and south of this show clear differences. In the north there is the white-handed gibbon, orang-hutan, and more while in the south, there are other spiecies, which are not known in the north.

Mentawai: A forgotten paradise

It's already more than half a milion years ago tha the Mentawai-islands, at 100 km from the coast of Padang, were connected with Sumatera's mainland. This long isolation caused primitive species to develop into local spiecies.

Eighty per cent of the mammals on Mentawai is local. To this group also belong the groups of monkeys. Two groups of monkeys are unique in the Old World, because they life in families. Some inhabitants of the island have theirs own myth about the origin of mankind. During a meeting about a special group of gibbons, they noticed that their trees were overcrowded. Half of the group decided to leave the trees and was about to live on the surface of the earth. These kind of stories prooved the traditional tight connection which the traditional people has with it's habitat and the animals which belong there.

'Forest Humans'

The virgin forests give you something very big, which is hard to express. The Sumateran rainforests are rapidly disappearing and every traveller should bring a visit to it.
The forest near Bukit Lawang at the border of National Park Gunung Leuser is easy to reach: two hours driving from Medan. Here, captured orang-hutans (litt. Forest Humans) are prepared for their return to nature. The beautiful animals with their red-brown hair are thought to adapt to the forests again. Every once in a while the forest around the centre is closed for visitors, when the feeding is abandoned and the youngsters are encouraged to go out hunting on their own.

Other pieces of the rain-forest can be reached easily from Bengkulu, Banda Aceh, Blangkejaran, Kabanjahe, Sidikalang, Pematang Sianter, Bukittinggi, Tebingtinggi and Padang.

Mountains and parks

Whenever you climb a mountain, a slow but steady change in vegetation anf habitation is to be seen. The tropical rainforests is slowly replaced by less dense vegetation, trees and leaves get smaller, branches and twigs are covered with moss, colorfull trees and plants from the temperate zones on the planet show up and decorate the most high places. This vegetation can only be found at higher altitutes, as well as some spiecies of birds and animals.

Adventurous people, who want to hike on their own, can explore National park Gunung Leuser. It's at least four days to climb Gunung Kemiri, which belongs to the easy ones. A climb like this needs some good preparation, some helpers have to be hired. Also don't forget that the temperatures can drop to about zero degrees Celcius on those high altitudes. The mountains also offer most possibility of encounting a rhino or a tiger. In this tigercountry it's dangerous to answer natures call, especially for females, which are to be vulnerable.

The chopping of big pieces of rainforest has lead to close encounters between the population and the animal world in the recent years. Because of the ever increasing number of roads and clearing of agricultural soil, the Indian Elephants, which destroy the most, are pushed back into the forest. Many times, new roads cross traditional paths of the elephants. Sumatera however, has a population of elephants that is more dense then anywhere on the world.

Impressive are the concentrations of elephants in National park Way Kambas, in the province of Lampung, South Sumatera, and in the reserve of Air Sugihan. Because of round-ups with helicopters which scatter loud rochmusic, and with the help of the population in the villages, the elephants are driven to these reserves. They mostly consist of secondaru forests, so the original rainforests are already gone there. But the elephants can find enough food on the grasslands between those forests.

The awkward situation of the elephants is symbolic to the situation of many wild animals which live on Sumatera try to survive while their area is constantly in danger of dissappearance? In an effort to improve the future look, young elephants are brought to a 'trainingcamp' where they are though to be economical usefull. The oldest camp is in National Park Wai Kambas.

Smelly giants

Sumatra can be proud with the biggest and highest flower in the world. The biggest flower is the remarkable rafflesia (Rafflesia Arnoldi) and it's size is absolutely not the inly unique brand. It's a parasite without leaves or roots. It grows between branched and roots of the Cissus-lian and except the flower it only consists of some cell-tissue which is inside it's host. The bud of the flower glow like small collyflowers and develop slowly. A bud of 10 cm in diametre opens only after five months.

When the flower finally opened, it spreads a strong smell of decaying meat. This for humans very bad taste, does actually attract flies and other bugs, which fertilize the flowers. Since the male and female flowers are far from eachother, fertilization is a rare event. After the flowering, they immediately start to decay themselved, and only when small fruits stick to the legs of animals and they end up against a plant, they will grow again.

The Amorphophallus Titanium belongs to the family of arums, and also is enormous. This plant normally only shows it's leaves. These leaves fead an underground tuber whnich produces a big cob when it flowers, which can be as high as a human. This cob is surrounded by very tiny flowers.

These flowers too, spread a very bad smelling odour which attracts bugs and flies. The chance of seeing a flowering one is very rare. The best spot for them to see is the forest around Guning Kerinci. The local name for both of these flowers is bunga bangkai ('flower of deceased').

What will the future bring?

The future leaves no space for optimism. The echo of falling trees has become as usual as the call of several animals. The yells of woodchoppers are followed by rattling leaves, which tear open the rainforests closed roof of leaves. Just after the soil shivers, and animals make strange sounds when the centuries-old tree hits the ground with tremendous force. Forest products like ratten and resin are taken away without thinking of the future. Still ther are hunters which die time by shooting Sumateran tigers and elephants. What is still left of the primary rainforest is rapidly dissappearing.

That's why you shouw go out and see it all right now; enjoy what's left, but safe nature. Sumatra's wildlife is enormous and very special, though there is some time needed to witness it all. Patience and courage are certainly rewarded, even the waiting doesn't give you more than a few monkeys high in the trees, still it's worth while visiting Sumatera's dissappearing rainforests and it's inhabitants.

Last revised on September 02, 2011
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