In the mountainous region of north Luwu in South Sulawesi, live the anoa (dwarf buffalo) hunters of the Rampi tribe, a tribal community living under the protection of traditional laws. Their livestock roam freely, while the natural environment is carefully protected. They know the anoa are a protected species on the verge of extinction. But the Rampi tradirional laws, the one legal system they faitfully obey, allow for the hunting of anoa in strictly controlled numbers. Tempo Reporter in Makassar, Irmawati, explored the dense virgin forest terrain of the Rampi tribe.

Anoa di Rampi

THE billowing smoke exuded an aroma of smoked meat, producing a pungent smell. Three hunters were huddling around the smokehouse in the middle of the jungle. They were not in the least bothered by the strong smell from the smoked meat as they were seriously talking while tending the smokehouse. This is the kind of meat unfamiliar to our dining table: the meat of the anoa, which resembles a cow, but smaller in size. The aroma of its meat is vastly different from that of beef which easily triggers the appetite. The aroma of the smoked meat makes our heads a little dizzy.

The smoking lasts 24 hours nonstop in order to maintain the quality of the hunted anoa meat. “If the smoking process is good, the meat can be preserved for three months,” said Sera Kae, 29, leader of the hunting group. We met Sera in front of his tent in the midst of the Rampi jungle which is reached on foot for two days from the nearest hamlet, Onondowa. He is a resident of the hamlet—one of six at the Rampi subdistrict, in North Luwu regency, South Sulawesi. Onondowa is about 450 kilometers from Makassar.

To get there, Tempo was accompanied by a guide. The trip on foot takes two days of bushwhacking the forest and through a savanna to reach the hunters’ base camp, to be exact, a tent where the hunters take a little break prior to hunting. Sera’s profession is a farmer. This tall man hunts to supplement his income. In this team Sera is assisted by Deri Tandu, 29, and Laribu Kumpi, 40. For six days of hunting in the forest in the middle of last January, these hunters from the Rampi tribe succeeded in catching several hogs and anoa. “Some got into the traps, some others we caught aided by dogs,” said Sera.

Sera has hunted since he was 10 years old. At first he simply followed the senior hunters. But since he was by nature a hunter, it did not take him long to learn the ropes.  Sera is well-versed in reading the signs of nature, like listening to the wind, reading the sky, studying the flow of a river, and hearing the sounds of the natural world to tell the time. When he was 17, he began hunting on his own. The last year, at 28, he was entrusted with the job of hunting leader. His assets, in addition to his hunting, skills, are a strong presence of mind, patience, hard work and four dogs.

We hunted with dogs after Deri and Laribu returned to their village taking their catch. Our destination is anoa’s favorite watering hole, that is, a warm water pond by the river. It takes half a day on foot to reach this spot. It is not easy to locate an anoa on  a high land. “The original estimate is only two to three anoa per hectare,” said Elhayat Labiro, lecturer of the Tadulako University School of Forestry, when we contacted him on our return from hunting last month.

The tracks at the Aopa Watumohai National Park in 1995 indicated that there are only five anoa per 10 square kilometers. This means we can only find this shy animal within a radius of two kilometers. That is why it is dissicult to locate this animal. After hours of hiding behind the luxuriant trees, we did not spot even a single anoa that came to drink. When night fell, we remained waiting. At close to midnight, two anoa descended down the bank of the river to drink. The glare of the flashlight and clicking sound of our camera caused the animals to run away.

The hunting was continued the next day. A spear and machete were brought along but the dogs were left behind. From a distance of some 50 meters, we spotted an anoa eating with gusto. Unfortunately, the sound of broken wood we stepped on scared him away. Not wanting to lose our prey for the second time, Sera chased it by carrying a spear. He ran fast from behind the trees, going down the hill and up again until he reached the top of the next hill. He ran through the dense jungle as if it were a soccer field. A very exhausting but fruitless hunt.

The next day we headed for Tokudi, then to Kana, a cliff and gorge. Anoa are in the habit of “hiding” in a forest seldom touched by humans. “Particularly the mountain anoa, many of them are scattered in the virgin forest where there are the kinds of fruit, leaves, grass, moss and ferns which they eat,” said Dewi Sulastriningsih, who was in charge of the Forest Ecosystem of the Center for South Sulawesi Natural Resources in 2008.

That is why, according to Amran Achmad, head of the Hasanuddin University Laboratory for the Conservation of Forest Natural Resources and Eco-Tourism, the presence of anoa in an ecosystem indicates a forest is still sound. Even in the habitat of anoa, we still had to wait a long time to be able to see this animal.

We sat for two hours on tree which slanted by the river. It was pitch-dark. There were only a few stars in the distance and several fireflies flying around us. Sera and Ambo, the guides, managed to catch some and put them on my palm. My feet had become numb from sitting too long, waiting.

Soon afterwards three anoa appeared from behind the trees, going down to Kana to drink. Conscious of our presence, they ran right away toward the trees. Only the shine of their eyes were caught by the camera. Not long afterwards, two anoa came up again but before they started drinking, they ran away. Apparently they were able to sense “the smell of an enemy.”

As we were physically unable to continue our journey, we chose to return to the tent for a rest. It was midnight after all. For the umpteenth time, it was fruitless to think we would find dozens of anoa drinking at this place. As told by Sera, the first time he came to this place he could find 30 to 40 anoa gathering at Kana for a drink.

It is indeed difficult to hunt anoa. Therefore, some hunters prefer to set a trap. The trap is a simple device consisting of a 2.5-meter nylon cord tied to a small tree branch. The other end is a slip-knot like a cowboy’s lasso placed on a heap of wood. Underneath is a gaping hole. “The moment the animal steps on the trap, the wood will get thrown upward so the animal will get hanged,” said Sera.

This method is more effective. They would set the trap when getting into the forest and it was checked upon returning home. “At one check, we can get 10 animals,” said Alif Sinta, another hunting captain we met a few days later. They were able to get many since each group set hundreds of traps in their turf. Sera’s group controls the areas of Koru, rante, Koladu up to Tokudi. While Alif staked the areas of Tokunyi, lekke, rante up to Denge.

They would eat their catch besides selling some to their neighbors and villagers. A small anoa produces only eight to nine big sticks of meat. A fairly big anoa could produce 13 to 15 sticks. “We sell each stick for Rp 25,000 to Rp 30,000,” said Laribu, one of the members of Sera’s group. This hunted meat sells quite readily. Generally, in less that three days upon arrival at the village, the smoked meat will have been sold out.

In this region, anoa is eaten like beef or buffalo meat. Although this animal is endemic to Sulawesi, by 1931 it was already categorized as a rare animal, making this mammal,  ofteb called a forest cow, protected by Law No. 5/ 1990 on Conservation of Biological Natural Resources and Ecosystem. Catching, let alone killing it, is of course a serious infraction.

Both Alif and Sera are aware that anoa is an endangered species protected by law because it is on the brink of extinction. Nevertheless, they claim they have never been forbidden or reprimanded by the local government. Moreover, in the tribal law of Rampi—the only law they obey—hunting is not banned. “Hunting anoa and horned pigs is not banned yet. We just ensure the hunted animals are properly used so they are don’t die in vain,” said Pauluas Sigi, 53, Chairman of Rampi Tribal Council.

This is done by, for instance, by requiring that each trap, which has not caught an anoa, is dismantled when the hunter returns to his village so that the animal caught in the trap will not die in vain. Besides dismantling the snare when returning home, the hunters would try to breed anoa. According to Alif, if the anoa caught is still young (about one year old) and is healthy enough, the hunters would keep it. “If it’s still one year old, it gets tamed easily. But if is’s over two years old, it is ferocious,” he said.

The hunting and consumption of anoa is triggered by other causes. In remote villages in the mountain, villagers find it difficult to obtain sources of protein in their diet. “Not every community has cattle,” said Rampi subdistrict Chief Yan Imbo. That is why he has not yet gotten round to announcing the anoa-hunting ban.

According to Imbo, if the people are forbidden from hunting anoa, the government should be ready to anticipate this by providing alternate sources of protein, such as cattle.

As long as such alternatives are still unavailable, the hunting as done by Sera will continue to take place. (by Irmawati,  Majalah Tempo English Edition, March 19-25, 2012. Outreach)


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