One of the many ways that Indonesia separates itself from other destinations in Asia is through its incredible biodiversity. Because Indonesia consists entirely of islands, it’s a unique hotbed for evolution- a process of species diversification that relies heavily on the isolation of populations. As such, Indonesia has an unusually high number of endemic species: creatures like the Komodo dragon that exist there and nowhere else on earth. Additionally, Indonesia is basically split in half by a boundary known as the Wallace Line. West of it you’ll find wildlife typically associated with the Asian continent, east of it you’ll find wildlife that’s more typically associated with the Australian continent. Combined, Indonesia’s archipelagic nature, its location on the boundary of two continents and its proximity to the equator make it one of the world’s premier wildlife destinations.
Nearly every major island in Indonesia has species that are unique to it, so if unique wildlife is what you seek, you’ll have no trouble finding it anywhere in Indonesia. Of course, there are some places in Indonesia that stand out as being particularly unique.
Ujong Kulong National Park, one of Indonesia’s most pristine and strictly protected natural environments, is just 300 kilometres from the bustling metropolis of Jakarta- one of the world’s largest cities. Within the deep confines of its jungle interior lives one of earth’s rarest and most precious animals: the Javan rhinoceros. Once prevalent throughout Southeast Asia, Ujong Kulong is the last place on earth where you can spot these incredible creatures. The dense tropical rainforests where they reside are teeming with other fascinating wildlife as well.
South of Ujong Kulong, on the island of Sumatra is the much-heralded Ganung Leuser National Park. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s considered to be one of Indonesia’s most important and biologically diverse conservation areas. The range of forest and species types within the park’s boundaries have led to a reputation as a living laboratory for ecologists. Many of the world’s most exotic, endangered and charismatic species call the park home, including tigers, rhinos, elephants and orangutans.
Ganung Leuser is so well regarded among naturalists because it is a true wildlife conservation area. As such, spotting some of the park’s most alluring wildlife isn’t guaranteed, as the animals have more than enough space to hide. That doesn’t make the search any less exciting though. The park is especially well-known for its bustling population of white-breasted Thomas leaf monkeys. Although they’re not as famous as other animals in the park, their unique punk-style hairdo makes them a charming sight for nature-lovers.
Roughly 73% of the island of Borneo, widely regarded to be one of the planet’s most transcendent biodiversity hotspots is on the Indonesian side of the island, Kalimantan. The entire area, nearly twice the size of Germany, is awash in lush tropical rainforests that have remained more or less untouched for millions of years. Within its diverse and wild landscapes you’ll find many national parks littered with unique wildlife that exist there and nowhere else on earth.
For many, the lure of Kalimantan’s abundant Bornean Orangutan- a critically endangered species- is one of the island’s biggest draws. And nowhere is more famous for up-close and personal experiences than Tanjung Puting National Park. Doubling as a protected natural habitat and wildlife rehabilitation centre, the national park hosts a large population of orangutans that, although free to roam about as they please, are also semi-reliant upon daily feedings. Sightings of them is virtually guaranteed. The park is also renowned for the abundance of proboscis monkeys living in the area. These large, goofy-looking monkeys only exist in Borneo and are considered to be one of the symbols of the island.
Of all Indonesia’s unique and fabled species, perhaps none are more iconic or distinctly Indonesian than the Komodo dragon. Reaching lengths of up to 3 metres, they’re the largest lizards on earth and can only be found within the confines of Komodo National Park. Besides being home to the world’s only population of these fearsome and fascinating creatures, Komodo National Park is also home to a broad range of species such as Timor deer, water buffalo, wild boar and monkeys. The waters surrounding the island are also thought to offer some of the world’s best diving opportunities.
In theory, Indonesia’s year is divided into a wet and dry season. In reality, though, it’s often hard to tell the difference. The entire archipelago is so close to the equator that trade winds tend to mitigate the effects of monsoons that sweep the rest of the region. Very roughly, in much of the country, November to April are the wet months (January and February are the wettest) and May through to October are dry. Peak tourist season is between mid-June and mid-September- although, from a weather perspective, it isn’t necessarily the best time to visit.
Venture far enough out into jungles in Indonesia and, sooner or later, leeches become inevitable. While mostly harmless, they can be quite a shock to someone who has never experienced them before. Bring “leech socks” from your home country if possible. In a pinch, though, women’s panty-hose work surprisingly well at keeping the creepy-crawlies out. The nylon mesh works better than cotton at preventing them from wriggling through the fibres of your socks and onto your skin. They’re also small and light enough to pack as a “just-in-case” option. Lining your socks and shoes with table salt provides an extra measure of protection as well.