Bowling for Rhinos – Indonesia Trip

Each year the American Association of Zoo keepers (AAZK) sponsors a fund raising bowl-a-thon called Bowling For Rhinos (BFR). Over 60 AAZK chapters participate throughout the US and Canada raising over $300,000 annually. BFR funds support LWC- Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (formerly called Ngare Sergoi rhino sanctuary) in Kenya, Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP) and Way Kambas in Sumatra. These sanctuaries not only save rhinos but also these entire ecosystems! Each year the top BFR fundraisers are invited to visit the rhino sanctuaries that the event proceeds support. Contact your local zoo’s American Association of Zoo Keepers Chapter for more information about an event in your area.
Below is a special post from one of the top Bowling for Rhinos fundraisers, Rana Bayrakci, on her recent trip to Indonesia.
I’m a zoo keeper of Asian bears and a wildlife research and conservation associate for the International Snow Leopard Trust. So what on earth was I doing studying rhino conservation in the tropics this spring? My desire to help with rhino conservation grew from reading Anna Mertz’s inspirational book, Rhino, after I heard her speak in Seattle several years ago. Her life’s work demonstrates that even someone without a scrap of wildlife conservation experience can make a huge impact on a species.
Zoo keepers around the country have raised almost $3 million for rhino conservation since the 1990s by hosting “Bowling for Rhinos” fundraisers through the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK). After several years raising money through Woodland Park Zoo’s AAZK chapter, I was stunned to learn that I had placed third in the nation and was therefore going to Indonesia for two weeks in April and May of 2008 with the International Rhino Foundation (IRF). 
Our trip was led by IRF’s charismatic Executive Director, Dr. Susie Ellis, and expertly organized by IRF’s Indonesia Liaison, Sectionov (“Inov”). We were joined by YABI (Rhino Foundation of Indonesia) Protection Program Manager Waladi Isnan who shared his extensive knowledge of Indonesian flora and fauna with our group. We visited two national parks in Sumatra, Bukit Barisan Selatan (BBS) and Way Kambas, and one national park in Java, Ujung Kulon. We hiked in the hot, humid jungles of all the parks and traveled by boat along rivers in two of them.
We all took turns falling in a swampy section of forest in Way Kambas, with minor damage ranging from a sprained ankle to a broken camera that took a brief swim in the water (That was all me!). Susie took the prize by landing on her wrist at a very bad angle. The injury unfortunately required surgery to mend the break, and she had to fly home after just one week of our journey. We missed her presence and experience.
The highlight of the trip was spending time with the “RPUs” or Rhino Protection Units.  These uniformed men are the front lines of rhino conservation, believing so strongly in the preservation of the rhino that they put their lives on the line to provide rhinos the protection necessary to eradicate poaching.  The RPUs are organized in groups of four; and spend 15-20 days per month on patrol in the forest, constantly searching for signs of rhino, which they measure and record, as well as evidence of poaching and encroachment.  Through their constant vigilance, undercover intelligence work, education of and outreach to park neighbors, they have all but eliminated poaching and garnered well-deserved respect and support from locals.
The RPUs guided us on walks through the forests of the three parks, skillfully wielding machetes to clear vegetation from our paths. They took us along several well-used animal trails where we saw evidence of rhinos, including more than 50 rhino footprints, rhino dung, evidence of rhino and tapir browsing, wallows used by both rhino and elephant, and horn scrapes from male rhinos.
The obvious respect and camaraderie between the RPUs and their supervisors was professional and impressive. There was an intense atmosphere of passion, dedication, and desire to work together to further their conservation work. We attended presentations on RPU work in all three parks and participated in discussions about successes and challenges for the RPUs.
I was honored to meet these men, the RPUs, who are truly living the lives of dedicated conservationists. Our contributions and support are critically important for their work to continue with the success it has already experienced, and our gratitude is shown by the support that we provide for organizations like IRF who understand where to best allocate the monies. I learned that our dollars go a long way in Indonesia. Together, we are truly making a difference and helping ensure that these prehistoric beasts will see another millennium. Long live the rhinos!
To view more photos from this trip, click here.

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