Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Timor-Leste declares first national park

After just five years as an independent nation, Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) has declared its first national park, a move which will protect a number of threatened species found nowhere else on Earth.

The declaration has been applauded by BirdLife International, one of a number of organisations involved in the site designation process. “This is an incredibly forward-thinking decision, made all the more spectacular by the fact that this is such a young nation,” said Dr Mike Rands, BirdLife’s Chief Executive. “We wholeheartedly congratulate the Timor-Leste government on this declaration, and their commitment to conservation in line with sustaining the livelihoods and heritage of local people.”

Timor-Leste became independent in 2002 and despite rich deposits of oil and gas it remains one of the world’s poorest nations.

The newly designated Nino Konis Santana National Park – at over 123,600 hectares – links together three of the island’s 16 BirdLife-designated Important Bird Areas: Lore; Monte Paitchau and Lake Iralalara; and Jaco Island.

The National Park will also include over 55,600 hectares of the ‘Coral Triangle’, a marine area with the greatest biodiversity of coral and reef fish in the world.

The National Park includes 25 bird species restricted to Timor and neighbouring islands, and also the Critically Endangered Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea, whose populations have been devastated worldwide by unsustainable exploitation for trade. In addition the national park is home to the endemic Timor Green-pigeon Treron psittaceus, listed as Endangered due from loss of monsoon-forest habitat on Timor island.

BirdLife has worked with the Timor-Leste government (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, MAFF) since shortly after the country’s formal independence. Site designation work began with a programme of biological surveys, resulting in the identification of the country’s Important Bird Areasc(soon to be published in book form).

In doing this BirdLife joined forces with the New South Wales (Australia) Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC), whose participation allowed the programme to be widened towards establishment of a new national protected areas network. Additional support to the programme was provided by Australian Volunteers International.

“This approach will ensure equity of benefits to local communities, protection and management of unique biodiversity, conservation of watersheds and recognition of traditional ownership, use and continued residence for local communities,” said a statement from the Timor Leste government on the Park’s declaration.

The National Park is named in honour of Nino Konis Santana, national hero and former Commander of FALANTIL (Forças Armadas da Libertação Nacional de Timor-Leste), the armed wing of the resistance movement in the struggle for independence who was born in the village of Tutuala within the National Park.

Photo: Yellow-crested Cockatoo by Rosemary Low (courtesy of BirdLife International)