Sumatran Rhino Conservation Program

The goal of IRF’s comprehensive Sumatran Rhino Conservation Program is to increase the population of Sumatran rhinos in Indonesia by monitoring and protecting rhinos and their habitats through our Rhino Protection Units, understanding its basic biology, breeding the species at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, and working with local communities to build support for conservation.

THE PROBLEM

No more than 80 Sumatran rhinos survive in very small and highly fragmented populations in Indonesia.  The largest populations of wild rhinos are found in Bukit Barisan Selatan, Gunung Leuser, and Way Kambas National Parks in Sumatra, Indonesia; there is also a tiny population in Kalimantan, Borneo.  The species was recently declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia.

The initial decline of Sumatran rhinos was caused by poaching for horn, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine. Now, the populations are also limited by living in fragmented habitats which prevent their ability to get together to breed; rhino habitat is also continuously encroached by human populations.

OUR SOLUTION

With our on-the-ground partner, the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia (Yayasan Badak Indonesia or YABI), IRF operates a multi-faceted Sumatran Rhino Conservation Program that includes protection of Sumatran rhinos and their habitat through our Rhino Protection Units, research on and propagation of the species at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.

Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. In 1996, the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) built the 250-acre Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in partnership with local NGO Yayasan Badak Indonesia (YABI).  Located in the heart of Way Kambas National Park on the island of Sumatra, the SRS is home to the only reproductively viable captive Sumatran rhinos in the world.  The facility’s seven resident rhinos – adult males Andalas and Harapan (brothers born at the Cincinnati Zoo and moved to the SRS as sub-adults), male Andatu (born at the facility in 2012), and females Rosa, Bina, Ratu and her female calf Delilah (also born at the facility May 12th, 2016), reside in large, natural rainforest habitats and receive state-of-the-art veterinary care and nutrition. This tiny population is the core of an intensively managed breeding and research program that is intended to promote the species’ population growth while also generating a genetically diverse “founder” group that could be used as a source for animals to repopulate the National Parks.  The goal of this program is to increase our knowledge about the ecology and behavior of the species while also supporting the population in the wild.

In February of 2016, IRF and YABI created a plan to expand the SRS; the IRF received a generous grant from an anonymous donor to implement that plan.  The strategy includes doubling the sanctuary’s holding capacity; building permanent quarantine, maternity, and ambassador animal enclosures; expanding the current infrastructure with solar power, energy-efficient generators, additional wells and sprinklers, laboratory space, staff and guest quarters, and improving security. We anticipate that the expansion will be completed by the end of 2018.

Expanding the SRS puts it on the path to becoming a true Center of Excellence for Sumatran rhino research and breeding — a place where rhino experts from around the world can come to study these critically endangered animals, with the aim of learning as much as possible about the species to aid the survival of their counterparts in the wild.

Results.  At the Sumatran Sanctuary, two births have taken place. Female Ratu gave birth to a male calf, Andatu on June 23, 2012, after having been bred by Andalas in March 2011 and taking a 16-month pregnancy to term. On May 12 2016, a second calf, Delilah, was born to Ratu and Andalas.

Ratu is a wild Sumatran rhino who wandered out of Way Kambas National Park in 2005, came into contact with local villagers, and ultimately was rescued and brought to the SRS. Andalas is one of three Sumatran rhinos born and raised at the Cincinnati Zoo – the first of his species born in a zoo in more than a century. In 2007, he was sent to the Sanctuary with hopes that he would sire calves from one or more of the females.  And he has!

Given the Sumatran rhino’s Critically Endangered status, it’s important that we learn as much as possible about this species – its basic biology, disease risks, food and habitat requirements – to help it survive. The rhinos living at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts, and as instruments for education for local communities and the general public. They also comprise an ‘insurance’ population that can be used to re-establish or revitalize wild populations, once threats have been eliminated in their natural habitat.

Rhino Protection Units,  Poaching for horn for use in traditional Asian medicine caused the initial decline of Sumatran rhinos and still remains a threat, exacerbated by small population effects, human encroachment/ disturbance, the potential for catastrophic events, and invasive plant species.  A small population was lost from Kerinci Seblat National Park as recently as 2001; in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP), road construction and human disturbance has caused the distribution to collapse, with rhinos occupying no more than 30 percent of their former area. Only the population in Way Kambas National Park (WKNP) appears to be slowly growing.

With funding from IRF, YABI now operates nine RPUs in WKNP and 11 in BBSNP. This includes eight new units hired and trained over the past year.  All RPUs spend at least 15 days per month on patrol in key rhino areas in each park. Two of the new Way Kambas RPUs are also now patrolling the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary to keep those animals safe.

In the two national parks where the RPUs operate, no Sumatran rhinos are known to have been poached in more than 9 years.

The RPUs patrol and survey several thousand kilometers per year in each national park, on foot, by motorbike, and by boat, all the while monitoring rhino, tiger, elephant and tapir populations 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, construction of camps or houses, and clearing of land for crops. If appropriate, the RPUs then collect evidence and help make arrests.

Thanks to community development activities, the RPUs also have been successful in halting and even turning back encroachment in some areas of the parks. The RPUs are working with adjacent communities to develop alternative farming practices to boost local incomes, as well as discourage future encroachment within Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. The RPUs set up demonstration plots using environmentally-friendly agricultural practices and conducted sustainable farming training programs on small timber and rubber tree crops. Growing these crops, an Indonesian farming family can expect to earn US $500 more for each hectare.

 

IRF is also working to secure more funding for large-scale efforts to conserve Sumatran rhinos and other species that share their habitat. In 2015, IRF, along with WWF and Conservation International, helped secure approval of an $11.2 million Debt-for-Nature Swap agreement with the U.S. to help save Sumatran rhinos. The objective of this new funding is to enhance the conservation of tropical forests, focusing on key areas for Sumatran rhinos, tigers, and orangutans. With a grant from Disney’s Reverse the Decline Fund, IRF is also leading a large multi-stakeholder initiative to create and implement a 10-year recovery plan for Sumatran rhinos.