Satellites show deforestation surging in Indonesia’s Tesso Nilo National Park

Satellites show deforestation surging in Indonesia’s Tesso Nilo National Park

PEKANBARU, Indonesia — Reportedly home to 3% of the planet’s mammal species and one of the highest levels of lowland plant diversity known to science, Indonesia’s Tesso Nilo National Park is a sanctum for Sumatra’s wildlife – including critically endangered Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) and elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus).

But the capacity of Tesso Nilo to support its wildlife is under threat, with data from the University of Maryland (UMD) visualized on the platform Global Forest Watch showing deforestation nearly tripled between 2020 and 2021. Satellite imagery from Planet Labs suggests this trend may be accelerating, with large swaths of the park’s remaining primary forest cleared in 2022.

Indonesia’s government declared Tesso Nilo a national park in 2004, granting official protection to nearly 386 square kilometers (149 square miles) of land in Sumatra’s Riau province in an effort to safeguard the region’s unique habitat and mitigate human-wildlife conflict. The park was subsequently expanded to 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) in 2009.

However, despite its protected status, most of the park has been deforested and converted to plantation agriculture for tree crops such as oil palm. While some clearing occurred prior to the Tesso Nilo’s expansion, UMD satellite data show continued, rapid clearing of primary forest after 2009.

Much of the deforestation in Tesso Nilo appears to have been done on an industrial scale. In a report published in 2013, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) found that the average illegal oil palm plantation size was 50 hectares, a size “far above the typical size for a smallholder, suggesting significant capital,” the report says.

Lead Image: Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) by Rhett Butler/Mongabay.

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