A Walk to Penajam Deer Conservation

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - After three days of getting around Balikpapan city, East Kalimantan, I decided to head to North Penajam Paser, a new regency in the southwest of Balikpapan. Penajam is only a short distance away from Balikpapan bay so it would be a loss if I missed the island.

    I rented a car from Balikpapan and crossed the bay on a ferry. The island has several beaches such as Nipah-nipah and Jumlai Cape. There are also 33 islands surrounding the regency named gusung. Since I had enough beach experience in Balikpapan, I decided to visit the deer conservation area in Api-api Village, Waru District.

    The deer bred in this conservation is different from the deer I had seen in Bogor. In Bogor, the deer are smaller-sized and looked cute with brown fur and white dots. Meanwhile, the deer in Penajam are sambar deer (Cervus unicolor) which is an endemic type on Kalimantan.

    The place was not difficult to find. Api-api village is about 32 kilometers away from Penajam harbor and can be traveled in 45 minutes drive. Local residents had given me the approximate location so that I can find the place easily from the highway.

    The deer conservation area is located on 5 to 80 meters above the sea level with hilly topography. Since 1990, the place has been managed specially by the Regional Technical Implementation Unit (UPTD) of the East Kalimantan Province Husbandry Agency.

    Entering the conservation complex, visitors will be welcomed by the contoured carpet of grass. From a far, the complex looked green with shady trees. In addition to the grass field for the deer to graze, there were paddocks, guest house, UPTD office, and workshop hall. There was also a wooden bridge made of black wood, one type of Kalimantan woods that stretched about 2,000 lengths. From this wooden bridge, visitors can take a close look to the deer inside six closest cages.

    The sambar deer are three times bigger than the dotted deer.

    “It weighs up to 150 kilograms,” said a caretaker.

    The antlers have branches and I had never seen such deer. The deer in the conservation did not seem anxious when approached by human.

    There are 12 cages and 206 deer in the Penajam. Each cage has various sizes from half of a hectare up to 1.5 hectare. Some cages only housed five deer, such as the quarantine cages, while some others housed 68 deer.

    The quarantine cages are used to fatten up thin or bloated deer that need special attention. Mother deer and their babies take up the most crowded cages.

    The deer are fed every 07:30 and around 14:00. Children like to get a ride on the feeding truck and happily take part in feeding the animals.

    “It’s like feeding the goat,” said Fevy Indarti, a visitor.

    But not all cages are having the food delivery. The free range area did not get the grass supply since there are grass growing on the ground.

    “There is also a river,” said the caretaker again.

    Once the grass on the free range area depleted, the deer will be relocated to a cage until the grass grows again. Each of the free range areas accommodates around 20 deer with only one male deer.

    When visitors are satisfied with the interaction with deer, they can stop by a souvenir shop inside the complex. The souvenir shop offers souvenirs that won’t be available anywhere else: the deer’ antlers. The antlers are collected from the adult deer that naturally fall off one a year. The deer will then have new antlers grow.

    Besides the antlers, the shop also sell ‘velvet’, pills made from newly-grown antlers of the adult deer. Velvet is usually used as supplement to boost up stamina.

    An employee of the conservation area said that the antlers are cut carefully from the deers by putting the deers into sleep with anesthetics. One adult deer can produce 1-kilogram antler that can be made into 40 bottles of velvet pills. One bottle contain 30 capsules and sold for Rp100,000.