Sokokembang: Guardians of the Forest
Although the ‘Batik City’ of Pekalongan is not a huge production center for its famous vibrant-colored textiles, the city harbors a plethora of natural wonders in the mountainous area surrounding it. Among the region’s star attractions is the 3,000 hectares Sokokembang Forest near the Kayupuring village, Petungkriyono subdistrict, in the southern part of the regency—one of the very few pristine tropical forests left in Java.
The park, inaugurated in 2006, is officially known as Petungkriyono Ecotourism Pekalongan and lies at an altitude of 900 to 1,600 meters on the slopes of Mount Rogojembangan in Central Java. For thrill-seekers, the nearby Welo River offers hair-raising rafting and river boarding accompanied by guides. The scary parts of the river, with tall waves at the eye level, will put a notch in your adventure belt, but there are also sets of small rapids that will tempt you to doze off as you languidly drift down the clear river if it were not for the scenery: dense tree-lined banks, narrow beaches, small waterfalls, majestic bamboo stands and the looming Mount Kukusan. Rafters can jump from a four meter cliff into a cool 2.5 meter deep natural pool and take photos of the rainforest from a high tree house.
After driving several hours southeast of Pekalongan, you enter the forest via a lovely winding narrow road sentinelled by tall shady trees on both sides-a completely natural environment with a quiet and cool atmosphere. Within the reserve in the Tlogopakis village, is the Curug Bajing Waterfall popular with hikers, students and families on a picnic. The road south of the reserve takes the visitor to food stalls near the falls where you can lunch on red rice, fish, sambal (chili paste), tempe, hot ginger tea and local coffee strong enough to blow your hair back. Walking the well-maintained 300-meter trail that begins behind the food stall to the falls takes only 15-25 minutes, and one gets to stroll amid terraced gardens and steep, lush hills.
Sokokembang is an important destination for observing primates, as it is the habitat of the Javan langur, the long-tailed macaque, and the endangered silvery gibbon, or also know as the Javan gibbon-the most critical primate in the region from a conservationist's point of view. The Javan gibbon is native to the rainforests of West and Central Java, with only an estimated number of around 3,000-5,000 remaining in the wild. The main threats to Sokokembang Forest's primates and other protected species-the binturong, civet, eagle, among others-are deforestation and the high volume of wildlife poaching to supplement the incomes of the poor who live around the reserve.
The capture of baby gibbons by poachers poses the greatest danger to the population of arboreal apes. Rapid population declines have been caused by the mostly unrestrained trade of these primates. In the villages surrounding the forest, villagers also sell non-timber forest products to offset incomes lost from logging, now strictly banned. Kasuri's home in the hamlet of Kayupuring serves as a base camp for NGO activists and visitors wanting to explore the forest's rich fauna and flora.
From gorillas to gibbons, three quarters of the world's primate species are declining at a faster rate now than at any time in the past 30 years because of the devastations caused by hunting, mining and agriculture. But here, agriculture can be enlisted in the fight to save threatened primate species, in the rare instance where the choice of which coffee to buy can make a big difference to the wildlife and community.
Villagers who live in the area have traditionally grown a variety of crops-vegetables, palm sugar, spices and fruity tree syrup-but coffee is one of their leading commodities. For many years, villagers have planted coffee under the natural shade of forest trees where the Javan gibbon and other endemic primates live. The region's wild coffee was processed traditionally and sold locally. But the price of coffee was so low that the profits were not enough to sustain farmers.
In 2012, NGOs and conservation groups, working alongside village chiefs, have taught farmers living near the habitat how to grow 'shade' coffee. They have also taught modern processing techniques and marketing strategies to sell these local coffee beans to a larger market at higher prices. To make the enterprise sustainable, proceeds from coffee sales have gone into funding Javanese students on tours to study gibbons, supporting research on endangered primates, and buying new hulling and pulping equipment to further the development of forest coffee and provide higher incomes for coffee farmers.
But the real success of this horticultural method is that now animals are able to travel across the coffee-growing areas freely, creating a wildlife corridor that will eventually encourage more animals to return to the area and repopulate. The method ensures that the region's natural rainforest is not cleared to create even more plantations for coffee, thus preserving a healthy habitat for wildlife throughout the region.
Farmers have now become guardians of the forests, taking visitors on guided walks and photo safaris to see forest-dwelling primates and other creatures. The Owa Coffee brand, sold at street-side coffee stalls, is a blend of two types of beans, Arabica (80 percent) and Robusta (20 percent). Robusta is grown under natural rainforest canopies, while Arabica is cultivated on monoculture (single crop) pine plantations. Coffee taste tests carried out by industry specialists and roasters have earned Sokokembang's coffee a score of 80 to 84 out of 100. The coffee distinguished itself at the 2016 Singapore Coffee Festival, with a label that advertised the product as 'Indonesian wildlife-friendly'.
Sokokembang Forest, in the highlands of the Serayu Selatan Mountains south of the Dieng Plateau, is 1.5 to two hours (42 kilometers) from Pekalongan on Jalan Raya Doro-Pertungkriyono. After Pasar Doro, the road climbs up to a Y-junction. A "Welcome to Petungkriyono Ecotourism" sign stands at the entrance. For information, check out the SwaraOwa website and the Twitter account @swaraOwa. It is difficult to photograph primates as they are always moving between tall trees, from one branch to the next.
Organized by local tour operators (Uzur Adventure, for example) and at only Rp75,000, two four-hour and two-kilometer-depending on the season and water level-river tubing and whitewater rafting trips start at 9am and 1pm.
Admission to the Curug Bajing Falls is Rp4,000. Trash cans and a public toilet are provided, so the area is clean, except after visits by large groups. At the Doro Terminal a car or small bus may be rented for Rp100,000, while Pekalongan Bima Sakti and Anna Rent A Car charges around Rp400,000/day.
Bill Dalton (contributor)