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ARC Home > Projects > Wildlife :

Wildlife and Forests: Indonesia

The rare Sumatran tiger is one of the iconic Indonesian species defended by the fatwa

Rich with dense forests and set in clear seas the islands of Indonesia are home to spectacular flora and fauna including the rare Sumatran Tiger and Sumatran Rhino. The encroaching impact of legal and illegal logging and mining is having a grave impact on these natural habitats, however, as is the increasing clearance of forested land to make way for plantations of palm oil trees.

The country holds a diversity of religions, too, with the unique Batak Christians alongside more orthodox denominations, Hindus and the largest population of Muslims in the world (200 million). In recent years these religious organisations have all played a significant role in conserving nature and defending their environment from exploitative developments.

Fatwa for endangered wildlife

In March 2014 the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) issued a groundbreaking fatwa (edict) to Indonesian Muslims making it a religious responsibility for them to take an active role in protecting threatened species. This pronouncement will be supported by an accompanying educational programme to raise awareness of the issues and develop practical action by communities.

This important development followed considerable consultation with environmentalists after Muslim leaders took part in a 2013 field trip in Sumatra, jointly organised by Universitas Nasional (UNAS), WWF-Indonesia and ARC with financial help from WWF-UK. In meeting with villagers living in areas where threatened species like elephants and tigers the Muslim leaders realised that they needed clarity about the status of such animals in Islam. Their prompt action on this has been widely approved by conservationists like Dr Dr Fachruddin Mangunjaya, Religion and Environment Program Manager at National University’s Institute for Research and Community Service and ARC’s chief advisor on this wildlife programme.

“It is a critical time for the MUI to issue such a fatwa to support attempts to protect rare animals," he said. "Indonesia has suffered a huge loss of its wildlife, due to hunting, logging, plantations and encroachment. In the wild we now have fewer than 500 tigers, 400 rhino, several thousand elephants and just a few thousand orangutan in the whole country.At this time of environmental crisis it’s so important to remember our religious beliefs and values.” WWF Indonesia also welcomed the MUI’s extraordinary move. “It is expected that a religious approach to conservation efforts, especially through a fatwa, will help members of the public, especially Muslim communities, become aware of the importance of conserving endangered animals,” said Anwar Purwoto, WWF-Indonesia's Program Director for Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Previous faith-based environmental action in Indonesia

This is not the first time that religious organisations have taken a stand on behalf of the environment in Indonesia. Past initiatives have included:

Restoring the forests around Lake Toba The Batak Church of Sumatra has been involved in campaigns to tackle pollution caused by logging and factories on nearby Lake Toba, protecting their local national park and working to combat soil erosion caused by deforestation. Replanting programmes with integrated organic farming techniques have been introduced, with tree species traditionally used for construction included to discourage the removal of stones from river banks - a practice leading to increased flooding of villages.

Islamic schools help create a National Park The Batang Gadis river is a crucial part of the ecosystem in the Mandailing Natal Regency, Sumatra. The wellbeing of the river is vital for wildlife as well as for many communities and farmers along its length. It also provides the means for students at many pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools) to perform the wudhu ritual washing before their prayers. However, the impact of gold mining and logging upstream meant that by 2000 the river water was at risk of serious pollution. Working with the Imam of one of the most influential pesantren schools a strong local campaign was developed, led by Muslim students and their families. They began to lobby the government to declare the area a National Park, protected from exploitation, and thanks to their persistence by the end of 2003 the Batang Gadis National Park was opened.

Award-winning campaign saves turtles In the mid-90s Ketut Sarjana Putra, a WWF marine biologist, realised that there was a serious threat to the sea turtle population around Bali. Though the animals were protected by a 1999 law an exception allowed a limited quota to be caught for consumption in Hindu religious ceremonies. This quota was soon being massively exceeded, however, so Putra worked with the local Hindu priests to look at the theology behind the use of turtles and eventually 37 Hindu leaders came to ban the ceremonial use of turtle meat. Ten years later there is virtually no evidence of a turtle trade and Putra, now Marine Director for Conservation International in Indonesia - was awarded the prestigious international Seacology award in recognition of this achievement.

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Related information

March 5, 2014:
Indonesian clerics issue fatwa to protect endangered species
Indonesia's supreme Muslim authority has issued an edict requiring the country's 200 million Muslims to actively protect endangered species.
What do Muslims believe?
A brief outline of the teachings of Islam
April 22, 2019:
DEFRA grant to work with Muslims in Indonesia to reduce illegal wildlife trade
The UK Government Environment Department (DEFRA) has awarded a grant of £255,000 to ARC and our Indonesian partners. The grant, given through DEFRA's Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund will be important in engaging Muslim leaders and communities to reduce the illegal wildlife trade.