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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current 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 stake.

"Of all other rhinos, the Sumatran rhinos are now the most threatened with extinction," said Marchellus Adi CRT of the Sumatran Rhino Reserve Foundation.

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 Park.

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 Kalimantan.

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 habitat.

"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 Chinese medicine.

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 hunting.

"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 problems.

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.



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