Asia, the largest of all continents, has a wide variety of habitats, from permanent ice to vast forests to gigantic mountains - the flora and fauna is just as diverse. However, it is also the most densely populated continent. As a result, its biodiversity is under threat primarily from habitat destruction, poaching and illegal wildlife trade.
Hellabrunn Zoo supports a project by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), which operates a reintroduction station in the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park on the island of Sumatra. Founded in 1995, the national park has one of the largest remaining contiguous lowland rainforests on the island. Its unique ecosystem provides a home for all the large mammal species of Sumatra: Sumatran elephants, Sumatran tigers, Malaysian tapirs and Sumatran orangutans.
Together for nature conservation
At the heart of the project is the protection of the lowland rainforests in Bukit TigaPuluh from slash-and-burn and deforestation, which are implemented to make way for oil palm and acacia plantations. The reintroduction of Sumatran orangutans into the national park aims to establish a lifeboat population from the wild population in the north of the island. The project also raises awareness among the local community about the value of Bukit Tigapuluh’s unique ecosystem by supporting initiatives for sustainable agriculture development, human-wildlife conflict prevention and environmental education projects in schools.
From jungle school into the wild
At jungle school, confiscated and orphaned orangutans learn everything they need to know about survival in the forest - from tree climbing, to what plants they can eat, to how to build a sturdy nest. After about two years, they are brought to the reintroduction station, where they are released into the adjacent national park. There they will undergo a period of observation until they have become fully accustomed to life in the jungle and can survive on their own. To date, the project has reintroduced more than 175 orangutans into the national park. With the first births in the wild, there is hope that a new orangutan population can be established.
The Sumatran elephant, a subspecies of the Asian elephant, is listed as critically endangered. Fewer the 2,000 individuals remain in the wild, living in fragmented populations across the island. Their shrinking habitat means that the elephants are increasingly encroaching on human settlements and fields. To mitigate conflict, FZS has an anti-conflict team that monitors the elephant population in BukitTigapuluh to prevent encounters between humans and elephants. The team advises the neighbouring communities on how to deal with wild elephants and avoid crop damage caused by elephants. Local schoolchildren also are taught about elephants and other wild animals and the importance of the rainforest.
Hellabrunn Zoo is one of the main sponsors of the Pallas's cat International Conservation Alliance (PICA), a research project dedicated to improving knowledge about the secretive Pallas's cat in its natural habitat and raising global awareness about the species.
Relatively little is known about the Pallas’s cat, also called manul. The small wild cat is native to the rocky steppes and highlands of Central Asia. It is extremely shy which makes it difficult to determine the exact population numbers. One of PICA's goals is to expand its research on the species. The organisation therefore supports field work in Nepal, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, Pakistan and Iran.
Modern technology and surveys
The research projects funded by PICA rely primarily on two methods for monitoring the population: To improve the effectiveness of camera traps, the PICA team is testing olfactory and auditory stimuli in multiple locations designed to attract Pallas’s cats to areas covered by the wildlife cameras; extensive surveys of local shepherds is another method used to obtain a better picture of the distribution of the wild cat.
Working together for the Pallas’s cat
The organisation includes field researchers in Asia as well as experts from various European zoos and institutions. All partners are committed to the goal of working together to develop a common conservation strategy for the Pallas’s cat and implementing it at national and international levels.
Red Panda Network (RPN) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the protection of the red panda and its habitats through a holistic approach. RPN‘s projects include the Forest Guardian programme, which Hellabrunn Zoo gladly supports.
Red panda decline
The red panda, also known as the lesser panda, is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. The species faces many threats, which have seen the global population decline by 50% in the last 20 years (since 1999). The reasons for this are:
- Habitat loss and fragmentation (one of the main threats)
- Stray dogs transmitting diseases to the red pandas
- Illegal poaching and wildlife trade
- Extreme weather events and the resulting change in mountain vegetation caused by climate change
Holistic species conservation
Tackling all of these issues requires a holistic approach. Red Panda Network therefore works with local communities to fulfil its mission to save the red panda. Its Forest Guardian programme trains men and women to effectively monitor and protect the local red panda population. The guardians patrol their areas four times a year, noting indirect and direct red panda sightings and passing the information on. The valuable data they provide is then used to improve species conservation measures. Red Panda Network also invests a lot of time and effort in environmental education in the Himalayan region and worldwide to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the red panda.