Creating Additional Habitat for the Critically Endangered Javan Rhino

December 8, 2020

Strasburg, VA – The Javan rhino has been a media darling in 2020. Photos and videos of Javan rhinos are rare, but this year has been unprecedented with the release of several videos of this critically endangered species, including two new calves with their mothers born this year, increasing the population to 74 from 72 last year.

Javan rhinos exist only in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP), and one of the major challenges for the recovery of this critically endangered species is the availability of viable habitat.

Indonesia established an additional 5,100 hectares area in UKNP called the Javan Rhino Study and Conservation Area (JRSCA) to expand the habitat for the rhinos. Rhinos move around in search of food sources and mates and will settle into a new area if both are available.

Arenga obtusifolia, commonly known as Arenga palm is a fast growing, dominant plant species that naturally occurs in UKNP, and it chokes out other native plant species, including the rhinos’ preferred food plants.

Arenga palm can grow to heights up to 16 meters, dominating the canopy. It spreads rapidly and closes off access to the new habitat for rhinos. In 2011, the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) began a program to open up pathways for the Javan rhino into the new habitat.

Creating Opportunities for the Local Community

The program hires local workers to manually control the Arenga palm using basic equipment including hand saws, shovels, hoes, and pruning shears to make as little noise as possible and avoid disturbing the normally reclusive rhino. The Javan rhino’s preferred foods regenerate naturally, and quickly, in the removal areas, attracting rhinos and helping ensure their continued survival.

In 2020, 250 local workers that live in communities bordering UKNP were hired to clear Arenga palm from 50 hectares of the JRSCA. The additional income supplements their work as farmers and comes after the harvest season. Work began in July and is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. Cameras positioned in the area as part of an IRF-funded monitoring program have captured rhino movements.

“The opportunity to see this critically endangered species in its natural habitat is the result of the commitment of the Indonesian government, park officials and local farmers,” said Nina Fascione executive director of IRF.