Rhino Protection Units Face Funding Pressures Due To Global Pandemic

November 30, 2020

International Rhino Foundation dedicates Giving Tuesday to keep patrols in the field

Strasburg, VA – Sinyo Handoko has worked in a Rhino Protection Unit (RPU) in Indonesia’s Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra for 16 years. With his fellow RPU members, he spends at least 15 days each month on patrol deep in a remote jungle, protecting one of the world’s most endangered species, the Sumatran rhino.

“I have realized the importance of Sumatran rhinos to the forest and I enjoy being part of the team that protects them,” said Handoko. “The Sumatran rhino is an umbrella species, playing an important role in the ecosystem. We must protect them from extinction.”

RPUs are highly trained four-person units that patrol key areas of rhino habitat in the national parks. The International Rhino Foundation’s (IRF) on-the-ground partner, the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia (Yayasan Badak Indonesia or YABI), operates the RPU program.

The program began on August 31, 1995 and celebrated its 25th year in 2020. RPUs not only patrol for poachers. They also perform vital monitoring activities, documenting rhino tracks or other signs encountered and any human disturbance to habitat encountered. They also remove snares and other dangers to wildlife encountered on their treks.

Members are recruited from local communities and even today, there are many applications for any opening. “Throughout the pandemic, the RPUs have remained steadfast, quarantining at home while off-duty and limiting their contact with family and friends so they can continue to patrol and protect rhinos,” said Nina Fascione, IRF’s executive director.

Recruits undergo a rigorous selection process that includes running, swimming, hiking, and other physical activities. That is followed by an intensive training course that includes classroom instruction, field exercises, and law enforcement practices.

Members joined because they have a passion for wildlife conservation and understand the importance of Sumatran and Javan rhinos to Indonesia. Their favorite thing about the job is seeing or hearing a rhino while on patrol.

“Being RPU is honor for my family and they are proud of me,” said Endin, a 12-year RPU verteran in Ujung Kulon National Park, the last remaining home to Javan rhinos. There have been no poaching incidents in the park in more than 20 years thanks to RPU efforts.

Traditional funding sources have been under pressure as a result of the global pandemic.  “The dedicated individuals of the RPUs and their efforts to protect and monitor the critically endangered rhinos of Indonesia are in need of your support today,” said Fascione.

IRF has dedicated 2020’s Giving Tuesday to channel support to RPUs, with a goal of $50,000, which would provide a full year of funding for one RPU in 2021. “A long-time IRF supporter has already agreed to match every gift made until December 31st, and now, another generous donor has added a second match for Giving Tuesday,” said Fascione. “Every donation will be tripled on Giving Tuesday, keeping RPU’s in the field protecting critically endangered rhinos in in Indonesia.”