Hairy Babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa) survey on the island of Buru, Maluku Islands

Landsat image of Buru showing vegetation cover.White dotted border shows deforested and forested areas, yellow spot is location of gold mine

A team led by Alastair Macdonald of The University of Edinburgh and Meytty Pattikawa from My Tours and Travel, Ambon aimed to identify the current population status of babirusa and other wild pigs on the island of Buru and determine their distribution, trends over the past 20 years and current and prospective threats. This was urgently needed because the last records were from 1990 and it’s expected that there has been a decline in the population since then as the island has seen rapid land use change over the last 25 years and increased human migration to the island as well. The study involved conducting questionnaires and interviews with local communities on Buru to determine if there were hunting pressures and looking at time-dated landsat images across a 25 year period to examine changes in vegetation cover of the island, along with visits to see the quality of remaining habitat.

View of the forest clad north-west coast of Buru

Babirusa were found to be still present on the island of Buru. Respondents were able to accurately describe the differences between babirusa and the wild boar species also present on the island and had different local names for them, which shows that they knew are different. Hunting was found to currently be a minimal threat, due to the majority of the population in the north side of Buru being Muslim. Habitat loss through the removal of forest land for farming and commercial crops (such as coconut and cacao) was found to have had the greatest impact upon babirusa distribution on Buru. The rate of habitat conversion is expected to increase on Buru, with gold mining driving transmigration to the island as people move there seeking wealth. This increasing human population exacerbates the already significant demand for land to grow food and cash crops. What little habitat remains will become ever more fragmented and populations to become further isolated. With how significantly habitat loss has already affected hairy babirusa populations on Buru, further loss poses a very serious threat to the species survical. There is an urgent need for a change to the IUCN Red List and increased protection for this species based on the results of this survey.

An article based on the findings of this project has been published in Suiform Soundings and can be found by following the link:

Aerial view of gold miners camp on Mt Botak