Javan Rhino Conservation Program
IRF works with our local partner, the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia (Yayasan Badak Indonesia or YABI), and the staff of Ujung Kulon National Park to protect the world’s only population of Javan rhinos while also working to expand the species’ habitat in Indonesia.
Indonesia’s remote Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP) holds the world’s only viable population of 72 Critically Endangered Javan rhino. Presently, only 40% to 50% of UKNP is considered suitable habitat for Javan rhinos and the park is now believed to be close to carrying capacity.
Because the last population of Javan rhinos exist in a single location, it is especially susceptible to catastrophic losses from disease or natural disasters. UKNP and surrounding areas were decimated by the eruption of Krakatau in 1883. Anak Krakatau, also known as Son of Krakatau, is now active and erupted as recently as December 2018. Luckily no rhinos were killed in the resulting tsunami, but if a similar eruption were to occur, we cannot be sure the Javan rhino population would be safe.
IRF, YABI and park staff operate five terrestrial and two marine Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) in UKNP. RPUs are highly-trained, four-person anti-poaching teams that intensively patrol key areas within the national park. The goal of the RPU program is to prevent the extinction of Javan rhinos and other threatened species and to protect critical habitats in Java through proactive prevention of poaching and habitat destruction.
Although the RPUs in UKNP have been very successful, protection in itself isn’t going to be enough to save the species from extinction. Over the long-term, the population needs to be spread out, with a second viable population established elsewhere in Indonesia. Our first step towards accomplishing this goal is to increase the habitat available in eastern UKNP so the existing population can expand and grow.
Since 1998, YABI’s RPUs and UKNP’s Rhino Monitoring Units (RMUs) have kept the UKNP population safe from poaching.
The RPUs patrol and survey on foot, motorbike, and by boat to monitor Javan rhinos and other threatened species through direct sightings, footprints, feces, wallows, and evidence of feeding. RPUs immediately remove any traps or snares discovered during patrols and investigate any illegal activity, including illegal hunting and fishing, illegal logging, and construction of camps or houses. If appropriate, the RPUs then collect evidence and help make arrests. RMUs track each individual rhino with camera traps, ensuring an accurate count of the population.
In addition to protection efforts the National Park and YABI have developed the 5,000 hectare Javan Rhino Study and Conservation Area (JRSCA) in the Gunung Honje area, along UKNP’s eastern boundary. The continued survival of the Javan rhino depends on their population increasing in numbers as rapidly as possible, and this new area would provide more habitat to allow the population to increase under intensified management and protection. The study and conservation area eventually will serve as a ‘staging ground’ from which translocations to a second site can occur.
We have hired more than 150 people from surrounding communities to construct a 10-km perimeter fence along the study and conservation area to prevent encroachment, and to build three guard posts and a base camp for the RPUs that patrol the area. They have also cleared 170 hectares of the dominant Arenga palm to allow other native rhino food plants to recolonize the forests.
As the JRSCA habitat has been improved over the past several years, Javan rhinos from the population in the western section of UKNP have begun moving into the area on their own – as many as nine rhinos are now regularly using the habitat.