Papua is known for its natural beauty and variety of its wildlife. Merauke, the easternmost city in Indonesia, is no exception, with various endemic species inhabiting the wilds surrounding the city. For those who wish to see the wildlife without venturing into the forests, wetlands, and other habitats outside of the city, the Yamai Atib Wildlife Park would be a good place to visit.
The small park, located in the centre of the city, was established in 2017 by Frederikus Gebze, the former District Head of Meruke. The name Yamai Atib comes from the language of the Marind tribe, and translates to “gathering place of animals”. It is home to a large variety of animals including deer, wallabies, crocodiles, and a large variety of birds including eagles, cassowaries, and many others. This makes it the closest thing to a zoo in the city centre.
Approaching the park, we immediately see a colourful gate, flanked by pillars topped with faux stag heads. To the left is a row of pendopo, traditional gazebos where people can sit and relax, where a group of people can be seen conversing. To the right is the welcome area leading to the animal enclosures with the Papuan deer, the first animals we see. The park allows visitors to feed the deer, and for a small price, you can buy bunches of spinach to feed them. A couple of kids can be seen with their parents, smiling as they stretch their arms to bring the vegetables to the waiting deer.
Interestingly, the deer is the only animal in the park that is not endemic to Papua and was brought to the region by the Dutch colonial government in the 1920s. They were kept to roam in the parks and gardens before they were released in the wilds outside Merauke, after their numbers increased significantly. The Dutch then allowed for them to be hunted within limits, namely that only the older animals are hunted during a specific period in late December every year. Over the years, venison has become a local delicacy, commonly grilled with skewers or made into jerky. Unfortunately, the excessive hunting has led to large scale migration of the animals to neighbouring Papua New Guinea.
An unexpected member of the menagerie is the wallaby, which is surprisingly an endemic species in Papua. Many would assume that the animal, resembling a smaller kangaroo, is only found in Australia, but they have lived in Papua for a very long time due to the landmasses of Papua and Australia being connected in the past. Much like the deer, the wallaby is under threat from hunting and illegal trading.
As we walk around the enclosure, more animals come into view. Small cages with a variety of colourful birds are seen immediately after. At the further end, we see the large cassowaries and majestic eagles perched on branches. At the end is a cage with small crocodiles, unmoving at the bottom. At the end, we come to a small area with tables and chairs. We are told that this area is frequently used for gatherings by the locals, where they can eat, drink, and sing songs into the night. A small group of people have already gathered, watching the TV screen as it shows a wildlife program.
The park is not large, but contains quite a lot of different animals. After circling the enclosures and taking a few snapshots, we head for the exit.
A park like Yamai Atib is a valuable one because it allows for conservation of animals, particularly those threatened by hunting such as deer and wallabies. Additionally, it is also a means of educating the public about the wealth of wildlife variety found in Papua, and is well worth a visit.