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SOS Rhino : In the News : Poachers, loggers put Sumatran rhino on brink of extinction

Poachers, loggers put Sumatran rhino on brink of extinction

  National News - January 02, 2006
The Jakarta Post, Bandarlampung

Widespread illegal logging is not only damaging the ecosystem in the South Bukit Barisan and Way Kambas national parks, but has also put the Sumatran rhinoceros under threat of extinction due to encroached habitat and the presence of poachers who hunt for its horns.

Executive director of the Indonesian Environmental Forum's (Walhi) Lampung office, Mukri Friatna, said the population of Sumatran rhinoceros in Lampung, which only number around 300, was now on the verge of extinction.

"I'm sure that it will be extinct in 40 years time if poaching continues unabated. Nearly every week, poachers enter the park to hunt for deer, but it's just a camouflage since they are actually targeting rhinos, tigers and elephants," said Mukri.

According to Mukri, the population of Sumatran rhinoceros is alarmingly low and it is nearing extinction. Only 300 of the animals are believed to be still surviving in tiny groups. The main factors, said Mukri, were due to poaching, illegal logging and land clearance activities.

The Suaka Rhino Sumatera (Sumatran Rhinos Reserve, SRS) has actually started breeding Sumatran rhinoceros a few years ago in the Way Kambas National Park, but so far has not borne fruit.

Environmental activists even deemed the breeding methods used by the SRS as actually reducing the birth rate of the species because the rhinoceros were not obtained from their natural habitat.

"The last rhino to be bred was Rossa, a female taken from the South Bukit Barisan National Park. Rossa was relocated to the Way Kambas National Park because she was too docile and an easy target for poachers," said Emon, a former employee of the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) who is now active in Pratala, an environmental organization in Lampung.

According to Emon, relocation and breeding of rhinoceros outside their natural habitat can only increase the death rate and gradually lessen the birth rate.

"That's why breeding methods need to be reviewed," added Emon.

A staff member at the Illegal Logging Response Center (ILRC) in Lampung, Joko Santoso, said that the lack of wallowing places for rhinoceros in the Way Kambas and South Bukit Barisan national parks was due to their shrinking habitat from land clearance activities. To cool off, rhinoceros wallow in mud or water usually located in densely forested areas.

"After many trees were felled, forested areas were turned over to cassava, coffee, pepper plantations and idle grasslands, thus their habitat has become increasingly encroached. The situation led to a female rhino to start frequently venturing into a village recently, whereas in fact rhinoceros are known to be timid by nature," said Joko.

According to Joko, less than 40 percent of the area in Way Kambas National Park is suitable for rhinoceros habitat. The remaining areas have turned into swamps, underbrush, cassava farms and grasslands, while many forested areas in South Bukit Barisan where elephants used to wallow have been turned into pepper and coffee plantations.

More than 60 percent of the forested area in Way Kambas National Park's total area of 125,000 hectares have been damaged by illegal logging.

The same thing is happening in the South Bukit Barisan National Park where 40 percent of its total area of 360,000 hectares have been damaged due to illegal logging.

Stoutly built, short, with strong short legs, each with three toes, one or two horns (consisting of keratin, or densely compacted hair) on its nose, the rhinoceros has a long history.

There are five species still surviving in the world now (two in Africa and three in Asia). Indonesia is home to two critically endangered species, the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros javanicus) of which only about 50 remain in the Ujung Kulon National Park in Banten, and the Sumatran rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sumatraensis).

Poachers have hunted down the rhinoceros for its horns that is used in traditional Asian medicine. On the black market, the price of a 30-centimeter horn can fetch millions of rupiah.

Rhinoceros only survive in the national parks on Sumatra island; the Mount Leuser National Park (encompassing Aceh and North Sumatra), the Kerinci Seblat National Park in Riau, and the Berbak, South Bukit Barisan and Way Kambas national parks in Lampung.

Data at the Lampung office of the Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) showed that no less than six Sumatran rhinoceros in Way Kambas and South Bukit Barisan national parks were poached each year. Environmental activists said that rampant poaching of elephant and rhinoceros in Lampung was due to the high demand for the animals' ivory and horns from overseas.

"Rhino horns are usually pounded into a powder which can fetch hundreds of thousands to millions of rupiah per ounce. Many believe that it can cure various illnesses and increase male virility," said Emon from the Pratala NGO.

Way Kambas National Park is home to a number of rare wildlife species, large and small, such as the elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, tapir, deer, antelope, honey bear and civet, as well as various species of primates, like gibbon (Sumphalangus syndactylus), short-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) and long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis). It is also home to 406 bird species, 18 of them protected.

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