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In this chapter:

  • Indonesia is located near the equator and has a tropical climate
  • Instead of summer, autumn, winter and spring, Indonesia has wet and dry seasons
  • Two-thirds of Indonesia is made up of tropical rainforests which are home to as many as 40 000 different plants and many rare animals
  • The rainforests in Indonesia are being cut down and burnt faster than they can regrow
  • The Rafflesia arnoldii is the world's biggest flower
  • There are many animals, like orang-utans and komodo dragons, which are in danger of becoming extinct

Climate

The islands of Indonesia sit close to the equator. This means that the whole country is located in a tropical climate. While there is variety in the weather on different Indonesian islands, in general the climate throughout Indonesia is hot and humid. Humidity indicates high volumes of moisture in the air.

Even though most of Indonesia is hot all year round, this is not true of the whole country. The highest mountain in Indonesia, Puncak Jaya, for example, is nearly 5000 metres high and the top is covered in snow throughout the year.

As a result of its tropical location, Indonesia does not have four seasons. Being close to the equator means that the temperature stays very stable, close to the same all year round. Instead of summer, autumn, winter and spring, Indonesia has wet and dry seasons.

The wet season usually runs from around November through to March. This season occurs when the winds (known as monsoon winds) across Indonesia shift direction and come from over the Indian Ocean. They bring heavy rains with them but the amount of rain varies across different parts of Indonesia.

The capital city Jakarta, for example, receives about 1700 mm (1.7 metres) of rain each year. Other parts of the country have even more. Some mountainous areas receive around 6000 mm (6 metres) of rain each year. This wet season helps to restore forests and fill swamps and marshes with water again.

The dry season is normally from late May through to October and is just what it sounds like. At this time of year the monsoon winds blow from almost the opposite direction to the wet season. They are drier winds and so there is much less rainfall. During this time of year the forests can dry out and fires become a danger, similar to bushfires in Australia.

Rainforests

Around two-thirds of Indonesia is made up of tropical rainforests (see image 1). These forests make up around ten percent of tropical rainforests in the world. Tropical rainforests are very diverse and have a wide range of plants and animals living in them.

In Indonesian rainforests there are thought to be as many as 40 000 different species of plants. Of these, there are around 5000 different species of orchid alone. Rainforests are also rich sources of timber. In Indonesia, timbers such as ebony, teak and sandalwood are cut for use in building and woodworking.

Even though rainforests are a large part of Indonesia, they are slowly disappearing. There are many reasons for this, but two of the biggest threats to Indonesian rainforests are logging and farming. The wood in rainforests is very valuable and it is being cut faster than it can regrow.

In a similar way, farmers in Indonesia often burn back parts of the forest during the dry season in order to create more farmland for them to use. This burning can result in smoke and smog as far away as Singapore and Malaysia. The Indonesian government is working to establish conservation areas that will protect large sections of rainforest and the plants and animals that live in them.

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Plants

As well as rainforests, there are many other kinds of plants and trees in Indonesia. Different plants can be found in different regions within the country. Irian Jaya, for example, and other islands close to Australia, often have wattle trees and gum trees growing on them. Islands like Sumatra and Sulawesi usually have Asian trees on them, especially spice trees like nutmeg and clove trees.

The kelapa tree (or coconut palm) is also very common in Indonesia. It is commonly used by the Indonesian people to make furniture, carve ornaments and even build houses.

Indonesia is home to one of the strangest plants ever seen. The Rafflesia arnoldii is the world's biggest flower (see image 2). It was given this name after Sir Stamford Raffles and Dr Joseph Arnold found one on Sumatra in 1818.

The flower can grow up to a metre wide and can weigh as much as nine kilograms. It is also known as the 'corpse flower' because it gives off a smell like rotten meat. This smell attracts flies which helps the flower to pollinate. The Rafflesia only flowers for about a week at a time, so they can be difficult to find in the wild.

Not only does Indonesia have a lot of different plant life (flora), it also has a wide variety of animal life
(fauna).

Animals

Across the whole of Indonesia there are animals such as elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, monkeys, apes, lizards, flying foxes, wallabies, bandicoots and birds. There are also many sea and water creatures such as giant sea turtles, crocodiles, sea horses, dolphins and many different kinds of fish.

There are around 1500 different kinds of birds alone in Indonesia. These include cassowaries (large flightless birds similar to emus) and birds of paradise which are colourful birds found in Irian Jaya. In Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, there are 21 different kinds of apes and monkeys.

Even though animal life in Indonesia is so varied, many species are in danger of becoming extinct as rainforests shrink and pollution increases Some of the most famous endangered Indonesian animals are the Sumatran rhinoceros, the Javan tiger, orang-utans and komodo dragons.

Orang-utans are found in Kalimantan and on Sumatra (see image 3). The word orang-utan means 'man of the forest' and these gentle creatures live in the treetops. They eat mostly bark, leaves, fruit and insects. There are now programmes in Indonesia to help increase the numbers of orang-utans and release them back into the wild.

Komodo dragons come from the island of Komodo, which is one of the Lesser Sunda Islands to the east of Bali (see image 4). The komodo dragon is the world's largest lizard. It can grow up to four metres long. They have very sharp teeth and claws and can run up to 50 kilometres per hour.

Indonesia has a wide variety of plants and animals that flourish in the tropical climate. This diversity helps to support many of Indonesia's industries such as logging, fishing and tourism. It is also important to remember however, that these industries also place pressure on the Indonesian environment. Indonesian rainforests are shrinking and there are several rare plants and animals that are in danger of becoming extinct.


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