Our featured Rhino Champions for June are the Rhino Protection Units who patrol the forests of Indonesia to protect Sumatran and Javan rhinos.
Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP) is Indonesia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the largest remaining tract of lowland tropical forest on the island of Java, and home to the world’s last surviving population of the Critically Endangered Javan rhino.
For nearly twenty years, IRF and our partners have funded Javan Rhino Protection Units in Ujung Kulon National Park – highly-trained, anti-poaching teams that patrol the forests, monitoring wildlife, removing traps and snares, and identifying and apprehending illegal intruders. As the Javan rhino population expands, it is critical that this intensive protection continue.
During 2017, the five Ujung Kulon RPUs continued their regular patrols of the park, covering more than 5,400 kilometers. They recorded 3 direct rhino sightings, 114 rhino footprints, and 30 rhino wallows. The RPUs also encountered 110 instances of illegal activities, primarily consisting of illegal logging, illegal fishing and bird hunting. In each case, the RPUs documented evidence, destroyed the illegal equipment, and drove the encroachers from the park.
No rhinos were poached during this period and no rhino traps were discovered. Camera trap data shows that the Javan rhino population has grown to 63 – 67 animals – an increase of around 10% in the global population.
Fewer than 80 – 100 Sumatran rhinos survive on Earth, with three populations on Sumatra in Indonesia: Way Kambas (WKNP), Bukit Barisan Selatan (BBSNP), and Gunung Leuser National Parks, plus a handful of animals in central Kalimantan. Poaching for horn for use in traditional Asian medicine caused the initial decline of these species and still remains a threat, exacerbated by small population effects, human encroachment/ disturbance, the potential for catastrophic events, and invasive plant species.
With our local implementing partner, Yayasan Badak Indonesia (YABI), the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) uses a multi-faceted approach to Sumatran rhino conservation, including protecting rhinos and other mega-fauna and their habitat through our Rhino Protection Units (RPUs), research on and captive breeding of the species at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park, and outreach to local communities, including education and alternative income programs.
Poaching and other illegal activities are ever-present threats. Although the RPUs have successfully deterred any instances of rhino poaching for many years, they regularly encounter numerous instances of encroachment, illegal hunting and fishing and forest theft. In Way Kambas, illegal logging and collection of forest products are the biggest challenges while encroachment and poaching of small mammals and birds remain the biggest problems in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.
The success of the RPU program, which is conducted in concert with government wildlife and habitat protection efforts, remains critical for the continued survival of Sumatran rhinos and other mega-fauna.