Baluran National Park in East Java, often called the little Africa of Java, is one of the oldest national parks in Indonesia and the area has been protected since 1928, initiated by a Dutch hunter. In 1937 it became a wildlife refuge and in 1984 it was declared a national park. The park is named after the dormant Mount Baluran volcano in the centre of the park, but it’s main highlight is a large African-like grass savanna with acacia scrub, surrounded by monsoon forest and some mangrove on the coast. The park’s rich wildlife includes the rare and endangered Javan leopard and other wild cats, Javan Rusa and barking deer, water buffaloes, the endangered banteng (ox), three monkey species, the elusive Dhole (Ajag), or Asiatic wild dog and a large variety of birds.
The flagship animal of the park is officially the endangered banteng, the predecessor of domesticated cattle in Java and Bali. The only other places where wild banteng are surviving are in the national parks of Ujung Kulon in West Java and Alas Purwo, also in East Java. Banteng used to be abundant in the park, but are now hard to find. The introduction of acacia trees as a natural barrier against forest fires has turned into a disaster and acacia has now overgrown vast areas of savanna, the main feeding ground for the banteng.
The Javan Rusa deer are thriving and roam the park in herds of up to hundreds. Best time to see them on the savanna are early mornings and afternoons. During the day they retreat to more shady areas, as most other animals do.
The water buffaloes like to hang out around or in the waterholes, often turning them into mud pools. The mud protects their skin against the heat as well as parasites.
Who doesn’t know green peafowl? During the mating season, usually from August until November, the peacock compete for peahens with a spectacular display of their tail feathers, accompanied by loud calling.
Did you know peafowl fly? It’s a spectacular sight! Peafowl usually sleep together high up in the trees, so the best time to see them fly is late afternoon and around sunrise, when they fly in and out of their sleeping trees.
The most elusive animal in the park is the Javan leopard, locally called macan tutul. Their main prey is the Javan lutung.
Another predator in the park is the Asiatic Dhole, or ajag, related to jackals. They live from deer, and occasionally young banteng.
Baluran has an abundant reptile population, best seen at night during the wet season.
What I personally like so much about the park is the seasonal changes; during the dry season the park literally dries up and the only water supply left for animals is available at a few man-made wells. When the rains arrive the park quickly turns green and plants start to bloom everywhere.
Long-tailed macaques are probably the first and last animals you see when you visit the park; unfortunately many people still feed them and at some places they have become quite aggressive.
The Javan lutung is relative shy; they live mainly from young leaves and that are at their best when jumping from tree to tree.
Baluran is a relative small park and has relative little roads and trails. Its diverse scenery and wildlife and relative easy access has long been kept secret. Social media has changed all that, and with a much better road than in the early days the park sees a lot more visitors nowadays. Most come during the middle of the day, when there’s actually not much to see. Come early mornings and late afternoons…
Visiting the park:
The main entrance to the national park is in Wonorejo, about half an hour drive from Banyuwangi. Avoid school holidays and (long) weekends, when the park gets overrun by local tourists. Accommodation inside the park is extremely basic and a better option is any of the local guesthouses just outside the park. There is a small canteen in Bekol at the centre of the park, and another one at Bama, at the beach. On weekdays they are not always open, so make sure you check and have enough drinks and snack with you. To see wildlife you really have to visit early morning and late afternoon; during the day it gets hot, and most animals seek shadow in the thick bush.
For my favourite photos of the park check out the gallery: