Until the early 1970s, East Kalimantan remained one of the most undisturbed Provinces in Indonesia, including extensive wetlands and seasonal lakes that expanded over thousands of square kilometers. Lowland forests, kerangas (heath) forests on sand terraces, and dryland dipterocarp forests characterized the hinterlands. A crescent-shaped arc of deep wetland/peatland extends southwestwards in the area approximately 0.5 degree north and south of the equator, between 116-117E Longitude. The Danau Mesangat Wetlands lie in the Muara Ancalong District at the upper end of this extensive basin, formed within a depression between the confluence of the Kelinjau and Kedang Kepala Rivers.
Since the 1990s, Kalimantan, with the encouragement of both the National and local governments, has been an import focus for expansion of oil palm plantations. A substantial number of these areas targeted for plantation development are unsuitable wetlands (palms may not grow, fruit, or are repeatedly drowned by up the 3.5m annual flooding), and some contain populations of Rare, Threatened or Endangered (RTE) species, some of the latter listed as Critically Endangered by the United Nations’ World Conservation Union (IUCN). Unfortunately, as privately leased lands (for forestry, agriculture, mining or a combination of those), RTE species – many of them as yet unidentified—face a high probability of local, or even extinction in the wider landscape. Currently the areas allocated as National Parks and Nature Reserves cannot adequately cover the range of species diversity that exists. This fact has been demonstrated within and at the periphery of oil palm estates in the Hulu Belayan, Kutai Kartanegara Kabupaten (Regency), in which at least 15 previously unknown species of fish were discovered by a team of local scientists, assisted by international museums.
The Yayasan Ulin (Ironwood Foundation, or “the Foundation”) was launched in April 2009 to provide structure and support towards meeting the challenges of forest and wetland conservation outside Totally Protected Areas, within the mixed use landscapes of Kalimantan.
The impetus for setting up the Foundation occurred in 2008, when a site in East Kalimantan that had been leased by the local government for development of an oil palm plantation (ca. 12,000ha), was discovered to consist of a broad, deep wetland covering at least 6,000ha. Following the confirmation that this was not only a critical source of livelihood for a community of traditional fishermen, but also contained more half a dozen species of Endangered animals (two kinds of freshwater crocodiles, two endangered storks, an Endangered species of turtle and at least two Endangered mammals), the company made the decision to set aside most of the area for conservation. In order to accomplish that, the Yayasan Ulin (Ironwood Foundation) Indonesia came into being in April 2009.
The initial site for the development of active conservation management was unofficially designated the “Danau Mesangat Conservation Area” in 2009, and soon became the focus for donations from the oil palm company, and institutions abroad, particularly public and private zoos and aquaria eager to make a contribution to in situ conservation of Rare Threatened or Endangered species.
An updated map of locations that have been visited/sampled in Mesangat to date is provided in Appendix IA. An officially surveyed boundary has been certified for the Land Title (Hak Guna Usaha/HGU) of an oil palm company (Appendix 1B). Tentatively, 6,000 hectares of this agricultural title have been designated as a permanent conservation reserve. Boundary surveys will be determined in consultation with local communities, taking into account local economic needs while giving conservation priority to wetlands not suitable for agriculture and occupied by Endangered species.