Timor’s Native Deer in Desperate Bid for Survival

Timor’s Native Deer in Desperate Bid for Survival

(Image/Robert Baird)

TUTUALA, 16 December, 2019 (TATOLI) – Off the far eastern tip of Timor-Leste lies a postcard-perfect scene: herds of deer cross white sandy beaches, dipping their hooves in the clear waters of Jaco Island, an uninhabited nature reserve. But the beauty belies a disaster: the deer are dying at an unprecedented rate.

“I feel sad when we see so many deer dying with my own eyes,” Lino de Araújo told TATOLI, during a visit to the island this week.

Rusa Timorense deer are listed as ‘vulnerable’, with fewer than 10,000 left in the wild (Image/Robert Baird)

Mr Araújo is the ranger responsible for the Nino Konis Santana National Park, which covers 1,236 square kilometres on Timor’s eastern cape, including the coin-shaped Jaco. He told us he’d been warning the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAP) the island would run out of water as far back as August.

“They provided water for the deer from 2004 to now, [but] we know that the Government really does not have enough budget to provide sufficient water,” he said.

Beginning in October, local fisherman began to report deer perishing. MAP estimates some 30 animals have died — but locals have told TATOLI the number is more like 200.

Park Ranger Lino de Araújo (Image/Florencio Ximines)

Lino de Araújo cannot hide his frustration.

“We named this park [after independence hero] Nino Konis Santana, yet we see no implementation in order to protect the wild animals inside this park,” he said.

Mr Araújo invited TATOLI onto a chartered fishing vessel as he delivers a water drop. It’s only a short boat ride, but the gallons of water have already come a fair distance — down a bone-jarring eight kilometre stretch of road from the nearest water source that hasn’t completely dried up: in the town of Tutuala.

Each water gallon contains 35L. Lino de Araújo estimates the deer need 32 of these every week to survive (Image/Robert Baird)

We watch as the men pour the precious water into half-cut 44-gallon drums, as the deer shuffle restlessly nearby. As we step back, the herd mobs the makeshift water troughs, jostling, fighting, desperate for a drink. We catch a glimpse of their lean bodies, ribs exposed and faces covered in sores.

Within 20 minutes, the dust begins to settle and the deer disperse. The water is gone, and it’s clear that some of the animals got nothing to drink at all.

‘Vulnerable’ deer population driven to flee

Rusa timorense deer are native to the islands of Indonesia and Timor-Leste, but the animals have also been introduced across Southeast Asia, the South Pacific and Australia. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists rusa timorense as ‘vulnerable’ on its Red List, with an estimated wild population of less than 10,000, and falling.

The National Director of Natural Conservation (DNKN), estimates a total of 80 deer and 100 birds live on the flat, 8-square kilometres of Jaco Island. But as the usually wet December fails to materialise, the situation has become so desperate some deer have been seen swimming the 600 metre strait in search of food and water. Mr Araújo estimates 30 in total made the journey. But the grass is not greener on the other side.

Fisherman João Canto (L) (Image/Robert Baird)

João Canto has fished the waters of Lautem District for 20 years, but said he’s never seen deer fleeing the island like this.

He estimates far more deer have perished than authorities acknowledge.

“When the deer come, we provide them small amount of water, yet we see them die in front of us… Jaco is a big island, hence more than 200 deer have died,” he said.

Mr Canto said the normally-apprehensive deer come very close “like domestic animals” as soon as they smell the water.

“They wait for us in the beach like goat or buffalo, and they seize the water that we give to them,” he said.

Ex-President Xanana Gusmao helps deliver water to Jaco Island (Images/Pereira)

Local NGOs have also helped cart water for the animals; even ex-President Xanana Gusmão volunteered to help. But everyone TATOLI spoke with said the same thing: MAP needs to make more funding available.

The Director of Municipal Agricultural Services for Lautem District, Edmundo da Costa, admits funding is the problem.

“Indeed, we want to provide water to our fisherman [to take to] the island of Jaco, [but] we have no money to buy water, and pay them to carry it there,” he said.

MAP constructed a new, 2,000 litre reservoir on the island for the deer in September. But Park Ranger Lino de Araújo estimates it would hold just two week’s supply for the animals when full — and at any rate, without rain, it remains empty.

“I believe we can work together, we can protect our deer in the island of Jaco because it belongs to the Nino Konis Santana National Park,” he said.

Fisherman João Canto estimates 200 deer have perished in the dry season (Image/TATOLI)

Fisherman João Canto leads us to a nearby clearing, where the shrivelled body of an adult deer lay to rest. It had perished two weeks ago, he said, with a shake of his head.

He pleaded with the department to begin carting water for the next dry season as early as August, to prevent deer from dying once again.

Meanwhile, Timor’s weather bureau is forecasting rain for the National Park, at last, beginning on Saturday.

Reporter: Robert Baird; Florencio Miranda Ximenes

Editors: Maria Auxiliadora

Translation: Nelia Borges


Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected !!