[Jakarta, LTTW] Man and beast are two completely different species that have intertwined within cultural domain throughout history. Such inter-relation plays a role in modern society by being a symbol to communicate with others through images and characteristics that the animal was known for. One of them is using the mother nature’s inhabitants as a symbol of a nation, region, or even continent.
It’s a common practice that a country takes the mantle of a specific beast because an animal is in its territory. Apart from restoring the population by promoting the preferred animal, nations can also benefit from using the symbol from the wilderness for their own political and economic gain.
Animal Symbol: Peace and Preservation
Ailuropoda melanoleuca or commonly known as the giant panda is an animal loved by the world, and widely associated with China. As the only natural habitat for this black and white irresistible creature, China wields it proud as supposedly a symbol of peace. Panda can be seen as a tool for diplomacy for China, for example, we can trace it back to the period of Tang Dynasty in the 7th century when Empress Wu Zetian sent two giant pandas to Japan. The “panda transaction” continues in 1941 when Beijing as the capital sent the two animals to the Bronx Zoo in New York, United States right before the World War II.
In 1982 the Chinese government stopped giving away giant panda as a part of its gift-giving diplomacy since they agreed to follow the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora that prohibits such practice. Instead, they lend it for a period of 10-15 years with a lending fee starting at US$1,000,000 to countries such as U.S.A, U.K, France, Norway, Japan, Malaysia, and even Indonesia up to today. The act of lending panda sometimes leads to benefit the foreign relation; the promotion of panda as a tool for diplomacy also brings good will for the endangered animal. More attention is given to pandas, resulting in substantial efforts to restore their population by both multilateral G to G programs and initiatives from international conservation organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Since 2016, the status of giant panda is no longer endangered as their population started to increase 17% in 2014 totaling to today’s 1,864 in China’s wilderness. This Yin Yang symbol from the wild that was once vulnerable due to the high level risk of extinction, has grown to a sufficient number of population.
There are similiarities in Indonesia regarding the use of an animal as a symbol. The country with an archipelago that flourishes with a wide array of flora and fauna is home to numerous endangered animals threatened to extinct such as the Javanese Rhinoceros, Anoa, Belida fish, Proboscis monkey, and Jalak Bali. Amongst those animal, Komodo dragon or Varanus komodoensis steps into the spotlight and becomes Indonesia animal symbol that represents the country.
That’s why in 1980, Komodo National Park was established in the province of East Nusa Tenggara and since then, the attempt to increase the population has been made. The statistics on Komodo populations vary. Worldanimalfoundation.net stated in 2014 there were approximately 6,000 living Komodo dragons. Other sources such as Jakartapost.com, reported in 2016 that the number dropped from 3,222 in 2013 to 3,092 in 2014, and recently 3,014 in 2015; Achmad Ariefiandya, researcher at the Komodo Survival Program Institution, told that the population on Komodo and Rinca islands is relatively stable while the declining numbers are found in smaller islands. Early 2018, Antaranews.com shared the latest fact on the komodo population in 2017 that reached 3,012 in Komodo National Park including a stable increase in Gili Motang. Although the numbers doesn’t necessarily add up from 2015, the stability of the population was met since the increase in 2015 and has continued in other islands for two years.
The effort made an increase, or at the very least making the population stable. Indonesia used methods such as wildlife monitoring programme that was executed by rangers and staff of the Indonesian Department of Forestry and spreading community education that gives knowledge and shares ideas on natural habitat protection. If it goes well in the future, Indonesia can focus on other endangered animals that gradually decrease in population or perhaps socialize the model that shaped komodo dragon conservation a success.
Just like China that lend their pandas to other countries, Indonesia also enact this diplomacy with their dinosaur like faunal symbol. In 1988, Indonesia government gave away two komodo to the United States. The friendly gesture was made after President Soeharto promised President Ronald Reagan to gave the majestic animals in 1986.
Such practice has continued since the political reformation in 1998. Case in point, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono bilateral relation with Hungary led to the Indonesian government giving the famed beast in 2008. Recently in 2017, Indonesia traded their komodo dragons with giant pandas from China, placing them in care of President Joko Widodo and the government. The exchange that strengthens both nations ties is complementary and Indonesia enjoys a 10 year loan on the couple pandas named Cai Tao and Hu Chun.
An animal can also be shared by not only one, but two nations as a symbol. Look at the critically endangered Bornean orangutan or Pongo pygmaeus; it doesn’t belong to any specific country because this animal exists in Indonesia and Malaysia. The two countries both shared it in the island of Borneo and can be a symbol of both nations but not exclusive to neither one like giant pandas or Komodos. Fortunately, both nations can work together, creating a cooperation that attracts the world’s attention, restoring the current 54,000 population of the “forest man”.
There is even an animal symbol that covers much wider than an island like Borneo with its orangutan. Girrafe, zebra, and lion are animals that can be identified with the African continent. It’s not limited to a specific country, but a whole identity of the 30.3 million km2 land. That is why there are many wildlife conservation and projects in Africa; from local, continental, to international.
Conservation of animals are happening, and everyone from individuals, organizations, to countries should continue working together hand in hand to achieve the goal of restoring the population as well as the ecosystem. This gives us a perspective that mankind is still willing to fight for their well being on this earth, trying to make amends with mother nature.