>Rare birds, orchids saved in Plawangan

Bambang M, Contributor, Yogyakarta

Bored with Yogyakarta city and need to get out? The Plawangan-Turgo nature reserve on the slopes of Mount Merapi might be an alternative place to visit, offering a glimpse of exquisite orchids or, if you get lucky, the rare Javan hawk-eagle.

Comprising some 198.5 hectares of nature reserve and 131 hectares of park, visitors can reach Plawangan-Turgo through the Kaliurang tourist resort and need only pay an entrance fee of Rp 500 per person.

Tall trees like banyans and pines create a beautiful canopy that shades visitors from direct sunlight. Once inside, the natural orchestra produced by thousands of birds welcomes the arrival of visitors.

Plawangan is home to a vast variety of birds — some of them rare or endangered species. A recent survey conducted by the Yogyakarta Natural Resources and Conservatory (KSDA) organization revealed that at least 96 different species of birds could be found in this area.

Among them are the orange-spotted bulbul (Pycnonotus bimaculatus), red-breasted parakeet (Psittacula alexandri) and house crow (Corvus enca).

Of the 96 species found, some 26 of them are endemic birds, meaning they can only be found in Java.

It is also in this nature reserve that the endangered Javan hawk-eagle (Spizaetus bartelsi), or elang Jawa as they are locally known, live. Reports said there were only about some 300 Javan hawk-eagle left throughout Java Island.

The presence of the Javan hawk-eagle in the reserve provides a strong reason to preserve Plawangan-Turgo as this particular bird cannot easily bred outside its original habitat.

“They (the Javan hawk-eagles) get stressed very easily,” said Andi Chandra, a conservation technician from the Yogyakarta KSDA.

Spotting the rare eagles however is a very rare occurrence.

“It’s only when the weather is clear that we sometimes get lucky and see the Javan hawk-eagle flying over from the forested area,” Andi said.

The location of the eagles’ nests are kept secret by the nature reserve so as to avoid irresponsible hunters from stealing the eggs.

“A television reporter once asked permission to take pictures of the nests but we would not give it because we were afraid people would recognize the place once it was broadcast,” Andi said.

He added that there were still many people hunting the endangered species even though they were protected by the law, mostly because of the high prices they fetch from collectors.

Other animals that can be found roaming the Plawangan-Turgo nature reserve include black panther (Phantera pardus), deer (Mutiacus muntjak), black long-tailed monkeys locally known as lutung (Tracypithacus auratus) and long-tailed monkeys (Macaca fascicularis).

Of all these, the black panther is the rarest.

“Before the 1994 natural disaster, there were about 14 black panthers in the area. Now, we do not know their exact numbers,” said Andi.

Orchids are another priceless treasure of the Plawangan-Turgo nature reserve.

A recent survey conducted by the student association of nature lovers of Gadjah Mada University’s School of Biology (Matalabiogama) reported that at least 56 different species of orchids were found in the area. Among the most famous species from Plawangan are the pandanus orchid (Vanda tricolor Lindl).

Not long ago, this particular species of white orchid with pink spots scattered on it could easily be found growing on the branches of dadap trees (Erythrina lithosperma). The flowers can remain in bloom for up to 45 days even when there is no rain.

“Presently, it is only in the untouched areas, the areas that people never visit, that they grow well,” said Miyarso, an officer of the Yogyakarta KSDA Unit assigned to the Kaliurang checkpoint.

But it seems that the orchid will get a second chance in the wild.

Badiman, a young man from Ngrangkah village on the edge of the Plawangan-Turgo nature preserve, has been trying to save the pandanus orchid by growing it at his home with the financial assistance of the Sleman regency-based KSDA.

He plans to put the plants back in the forest once it is safe to do so. He currently has more than 150 pandanus orchid plants at his home.

Other orchid species that can be found in the nature reserve include Paphiopedilum javanicum, which grows on the ground among the undergrowth, and the unique Nervilia punctata. This particular species spends half of its life cycle underground as a tuber. The flower only emerges when the leaves, which grow directly from the tuber, have retreated.

Apart from being a home to numerous species of birds, trees, and orchids, the nature reserve, through which several rivers, including the Boyong and the Kuning flow, also serves as an important water catchment area for Sleman regency and even Yogyakarta municipality.

The reserve will also apparently be incorporated in the planned Merapi-Merbaby national park planned by the provincial governments of Yogyakarta and Central Java.

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