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Elephants, Rhinos and Tapirs at Ci Tarum Valley

It may be hard for the modern inhabitants of the Bandung Basin to imagine that creatures as large as elephants (Elephas maximus), rhinoceroses (Rhinocerus Sondaicus) and tapirs (Tapirus Indicus) once roamed their region. But even before these behemoths wandered the region, other large mammals are also believed to have lived there much earlier, based on the discovery of an ancient Hippopotamus tooth.

In Sumatra, a number of these prehistoric animals can still be found, having survived changes to their habitats and to the climate. In the Sunda plain, however, these animals disappeared long ago, leaving only their bones to study. Paleontologist and geologist G.R.H. von Koenigswald (1939) reported the discovery of tapir teeth and other fossils along the banks of the Ci Tarum River in the Banuraja region, part of which is now submerged by Saguling Lake. These fossils are kept at the Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum in Leiden, the Netherlands.     

Elephants, tapirs, and other animals had come over from Asia into the Bandung Basin during a time when the Sunda plain was linked to that continent. The animals were headed south when the northern hemisphere froze over, after a global climate cooling severely limited food supplies

As the earth and water froe over, and the sea levels dropped to no more than 100 meters, the distance between the Sunda Shelf and the Sahul Shelf (which is part of the continental shelf of the present-day Australia and stretches northwest under the Timor Sea towards Timor), could be traversed by wildlife by walking or swimming in the relatively shallow water. Elephants, for example, could swim to as far away as Bandung in Cianjur in less than 3 days in extreme conditions.       

These climatic conditions had provided a corridor for migration for the elephants. At that time, the temperature on the Sunda Plain was 60-80C lower than now. Naturally, animals from the colder climes sought out warmer places where vegetation was plentiful.      

Some 800,000-200,000 years ago, the island of Java was covered by savannas, and had a climate similar to the current climate of Nusa Tenggara Barat, and this attracted the elephants. The migration of vertebrates to warmer tropical regions during the Pleistocene Age was typically followed by humans.

An entire elephant skeleton was accidentally discovered in Cekungan Bandung by a man named Iman Rismansyah when he was trying to dig a deeper well at his home in Rancamalang, Bandung Regency, providing ample proof of the theory. The fact that the elephant’s remains were found six meters down among layers of loose stones indicates they date back as far as 35,000-40,000 years, when the water levels of Bandung Purba Lake were at their deepest. The discovery of the entire, well-preserved skeleton in that particular spot in Rancamalang indicates the possibility that the elephant had gotten caught in mud and drowned. Because this fossil was intact; it is assumed it had not been dragged there from some other place.      

Elephant teeth have also been found in Cipeundeuy and Cililin, Bandung Barat Regency. These fossils are in the collection of the Bandung Geology Museum. Other reports of fossil discoveries in Cekungan Bandung should be followed up and studied further to determine the geographic conditions existing in the Bandung Basin in ancient times when hippopotamuses wandered about. Such investigations can reveal more precisely the environmental conditions, such as grass plains and dense forests, in the basin area back then.      This will help effectively visualize the geographic landscape of the ancient Bandung Basin in a detailed and accurate manner. The resulting artist’s sketches made to specification could depict the living environment and its flora and fauna for that period. It may take a while to be able to get good results, but if there is a will, the process might take less time.     

Up until now, only foreign researchers have made efforts to concretely reconstruct the ancient geography of Java Island to trace the migration of vertebrates. They have published these findings in detail to clarify past findings. This should be seen as a challenge for us to not keep our discoveries to ourselves, but to record it in a careful and precise manner to provide a clearer, larger picture that we can share with other scientists and the public.
Without a change in attitude, we will end up being left out of or left behind by research developments in the field of study done by foreign experts. ***

T. Bachtiar,
Member of Indonesian Geography Community (Masyarakat Geografi Indonesia) and the Cekungan, Bandung, Research Team.

Translator notes: These articles were loosely translated and adapted from the Indonesian language to suit English readers.

Download Bahasa version: Ci tarum Mengalir Sampai Hati in the Citarum Knowledge Center

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