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Rhino News : Sumatran rhinos wait for helping hand
Sumatran rhinos wait for helping hand
|| Jakarta Post
September 10, 2002
Bambang Parlupi, Contributor, Lampung
Out of five remaining species of rhinos left in the world, Indonesia is home
to two -- the Javanese and Sumatran rhinos.
These two rare species of rhinos -- the Javanese rhino (Rhinoceros
sondaicus) which has a single horn and the Sumatran rhino (Dicerhirhinus
sumatrensis) which has two horns -- are known as key species in the
conservation of nature diversity as their survival assures the protection of
other wildlife. But at present, the survival of these protected herbivores is at
"Of all other rhinos, the Sumatran rhinos are now the most threatened with
extinction," said Marchellus Adi CRT of the Sumatran Rhino Reserve
The veterinarian, better known as Marcell, said the population of rhinos in
the wild had declined fast in the past decade.
The Javanese rhinos are found in Ujung Kulon National Park in Banten
province, while the Sumatran rhinos roam the Sumatran jungles. Groups of
wild Sumatran rhinos are often spotted in several national parks in
Sumatra, like Mount Leuser National Park and Kerinci Seblat National
Their precise numbers, are not known but it is estimated there are between
200 and 300 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild, scattered in protected forests
from Lampung to Aceh. It is also estimated that groups of Sumatran rhinos
are found in Sarawak, Sabah (in Malaysia) and the central part of
Marcell said the decline in the rhinos population in the wild was due to a
number of factors like forest fires, illegal logging, nomadic farming and
conversion of forest into human settlement.
In some areas, rhinos are hunted.
In Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Lampung, for example, a
Sumatran rhino was recently found trapped by illegal hunters in its natural
"These illegal hunters do not only use steel-wire traps but also firearms."
Marcell said those hunters were hunting the rhino for their horns.
"According to information, the price of horns on the black market could
reach US$20,000 per kilogram," said Marcell, the foundation's site
manager. Horns are then sold on the black market as an ingredient in
In order to reduce the hunting of wild rhino and to monitor their population,
the government and several conservation organizations set up the Rhino
Protection Unit (RPU), a program to protect Sumatran rhinos, in 1995.
Three locations were selected as the working area of RPU, namely Kerinci
Seblat National Park, South Bukit Barisan National Park and Way
Kambas National Park.
RPU member, Bambang Subiyanto, said his job was to patrol his working
area, monitor the population of rhinos and their habitat, and to prevent
"We are concerned not only with rhinos. We will arrest anybody who is
caught hunting or violating regulations within the nature conservation
areas," said Bambang, whose working area as a forest ranger covers Way
Kambas National Park, Lampung.
In Way Kambas, for example, dozens of armed men were nabbed in
February while hunting. "Although we caught them with only a few hunted
deer, they could always hunt other animals like rhinos or tigers."
But at times, he said, there were problems when illegal hunters were ready
to resist when caught red-handed. Still, he believes the patrol unit's
presence helped reduce poaching. The number of volunteers, however, was
not sufficient compared to the area they must monitor.
On the other hand, there are more people clearing the forest either for
plantations or settlement within the protected area, thus threatening the
survival of Sumatran rhinos in the wild.
"In Lampung alone groups of wild rhinos are often seen at the edge of the
forest and the community's plantations," said Bambang, who has been
working as a forest ranger since 1982. "That opens up opportunities for
poaching. The shrinking habitat makes rhinos more visible."
Efforts to conserve Sumatran rhinos continue, including breeding them
outside their habitat. A captive breeding program was conducted between
1986 and 1991 by capturing 18 Sumatran rhinos from Indonesian forests.
They were sent to various zoos in the U.S., Britain, Malaysia and
Indonesia. Unfortunately, between 1986 and 1997, 13 Sumatran rhinos
died in captivity in the zoos due to various reasons, like health and food
In Indonesia, a special captive breeding project of Sumatran rhinos was set
up in 1997 located in their natural habitat in Way Kambas National Park
and managed by SRS. In this location, human intervention is limited. Each
rhino has its own area, separated from the areas of other rhinos, given that
a rhino is a solitary animal.
In the 100-hectare plot of land, there used to be three rhinos: a male rhino
that once stayed in Howletts Zoo, Britain, and two females one previously
kept at Taman Safari park in Bogor, West Java and the other in Malaysia.
However, only the male rhino and one female rhino are left now. One of the
females died some time ago. The two remaining rhinos are still under
study, with hopes they will produce offspring.