Irian Jaya, which occupies the western half of the island of New Guinea, contains some of the most pristine habitat to be found in Southeast Asia. Despite a government resettlement scheme which brings immigrants to Irian Jaya from other, more crowded parts of Indonesia, and although the province is inhabited by hundreds of tribes, its population has remained surprisingly low.
Nearly 80 per cent of Irian Jaya is still covered with primary rainforest. Its coastal and marine habitats, with their spectacular mangrove swamps and exquisite coral reefs, are largely intact, and the province's freshwater swamps and peat bogs are some of the most extensive and undisturbed in the region.
Since the late 1970s, WWF has set up numerous projects in Irian Jaya, cooperating closely with both local people and government authorities in an effort to conserve the province's natural treasure trove.
One of these projects focuses on Wasur National Park in the Merauke district in the southeast of the province. The park contains a wide diversity of habitats - enormous open water swamplands, vast tidal mudflats, dry savannah grasslands, luxuriant mangroves, and verdant melaleuca and eucalyptus woodlands. Its wetlands attract huge numbers of the waders and waterfowl that migrate between northern Asia and Australia.
Some 2,500 indigenous people inhabit the park's 14 villages. These people have traditionally supported themselves through the sustainable hunting of animals such as deer, wallabies, and wild pigs. Recently, however, the government's transmigration programme has led to a growth in Merauke's population. Increasing numbers of outsiders have been coming into the park to shoot game, depleting the supply of wildlife, and generally degrading the area. As a result, the park has been unable to protect the plants and animals it was designed to conserve, and the traditional lifestyles of Wasur's indigenous residents have been seriously threatened.
Their lives were further disrupted in 1990, when the government decreed that people would no longer to be permitted to live within national park boundaries. WWF immediately set to work to show the government that protected areas can actually benefit from being inhabited. The people of Wasur had always restricted the quantities of game they hunted. Moreover, by carrying out other traditional landuse practices, such as burning off dead vegetation in the dry season, they were helping to maintain a healthy environmental equilibrium and protect the region's rich biodiversity.
In autumn 1992, the government agreed to allow the traditional inhabitants of Wasur to remain in the park and made them partly responsible for managing the park's resources. Under an innovative management scheme, only people who live within Wasur's boundaries are to be permitted to hunt and sell game from the park. They also have sole trading rights for other forest products such as fruits, nuts, and aromatic oils, and are the only people allowed to cut reeds and grasses to make baskets and mats. Indigenous Wasur dwellers now patrol for poachers and have finally been recognized as the legitimate "guardians of the park".
Source : nationalpark.na.funpic.org