go to content go to search box go to global site navigation



The fact that Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Bali (all part of the Sunda shelf) were once linked to the Asian mainland is reflected in the animals roaming the region. Some large Asian land animals still survive in this area, including tigers, rhinoceroses, leopards and the sun bear. A few places in Java claim to be the last refuge of the tiger, but tigers in Indo­nesia are now only known to exist in Sumatra. Leopards (the black leopard, or panther, is more common in Southeast Asia) are rare but still live in Sumatra and in Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park. This park is also home to the rare, almost extinct, one-horned Javan rhinoceros. Rhinos have not fared well in Indonesia and the two-horned variety, found in Sumatra, is also on the endangered list.

Perhaps the most famous Indonesian animal is the orang-utan (literally, ‘forest man’), the long-haired red apes found only in Sumatra and Kalimantan. The Bohorok Orang-utan Viewing Centre in North Sumatra provides easy access to orang-utans in their natural setting, as does the centre at the Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan. Kalimantan is also home to the proboscis monkey, named for its pendulous nose. Various species of the graceful gibbon also exist throughout the region, as do other primate species.

Elephants are not numerous, but they still exist in the wild in Sumatra and can be seen at the Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra’s Lampung province. Kalimantan also has a few wild elephants in the northeast, but they are very rare and the species is most probably introduced.

Wildlife at the eastern end of the nation has a closer connection to that which scurries around Australia, as Papua and the Aru Islands were both once part of the Australian landmass and lie on the Sahul shelf. Papua is the only part of Indonesia to have marsupials such as tree kangaroos, bandicoots and ring-tailed possums, all marsupials found in Australia.

A long-beaked echidna and a golden-mantled tree kangaroo were just two of the discoveries in Papua’s Pegunungan Foja. There are also Aussiereptiles including crocodiles and frilled lizards. Then there’s Papua’s extraordinary birdlife: the area is home to over 600 species, the most well known being the cassowary and bird of paradise.

Lying across the centre of Indonesia are the islands of Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara and Maluku, all of which have long been isolated from the continental land mass. Endemic to Sulawesi is the anoa (dwarf buffalo), a wallowing animal that looks like a cross between a deer and a cow and stands only about 80cm high. The babi rusa (deer pig) has great curving tusks that come out the side of the mouth and through the top of the snout. The bulbous beaked hornbills are found across west Indonesia, but the enggang Sulawesi (Buton hornbill), with its brightly coloured beak and neck, is one of the most spectacular of the species. One hard-to-see animal is the tarsier, a tiny, nocturnal primate of North Sulawesi.

Maluku shows similarities with Sulawesi, but with fewer wildlife species. The babi rusa and smaller mammals are here, as are some primates, but it seems most of the migratory waves bypassed Maluku. However, it is noted for its butterflies – Pulau Seram (Seram Island) has reported some enormous species – and bird life, particularly the nuri raja (Amboina king parrot), a large, magnificently coloured bird.

From Lombok eastwards, beyond the Wallace Line, the fauna of Nusa Tenggara reflects the more arid conditions of these islands. Large Asian mammals are nonexistent and mammal species in general are smaller and less diverse. Asian bird species diminish further east and Australian birds are found on the eastern islands. Nusa Tenggara has one astonishing and famous animal, the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard, found only on Komodo Island and a few neighbouring islands.

And of course Indonesia’s waterways are home to a kaleidoscopic array of sea creatures. Sea horses, dolphins, turtles and stretches of coral attract snorkellers and divers to popular spots like Sulawesi’s Bunaken and Togean Islands, and the wrecks and reefs off Bali.