Javan Rhino Study and Conservation Area (JRSCA)
2010/2011 Project Updates
A major focus of our partners Yayasan Badak Indonesia (YABI), Ujung Kulon National Park, Asian Rhino Project and the International Rhino Foundation this year has been on the Javan Rhino Study and Conservation Area (JaRhiSCA pronounced ja-rhis-ka). This is essentially expanding the useable rhino habitat with the idea that improving the habitat in the Gunung Honje area (the eastern part of the park) will draw more rhinos and thus enable the population to expand. (There are already sign of rhinos coming into the area.)
Only 44 Javan rhino are estimated to survive today and all of them are in this park. It appears that the population has reached carrying capacity – although the park was once thought to have a capacity of 100 rhinos, human disturbance and reduction in food availability has taken its toll. Natural forest growth has seen rhino food plants grow either too high to access and Arenga palm dominance is blanketing the forest floor making plant regeneration virtually non-existent. The rhino are susceptible to disease from wandering cattle and buffalo and, of course, poaching is also a serious threat if the rhino enter encroached areas.
As one of the first steps towards establishing the JRSCA, park authorities began working on a plan to fairly relocate families living inside the Park boundaries so that we can make the area as safe as possible for the rhinos. UKNP authorities successfully negotiated with people living in two villages inside the park (Ranca Pinang and Ujung Jaya) and to-date have helped moved 80 families living illegally in the park. These families agreed to relocate outside park boundaries, and thus became eligible to participate in various job opportunities, including construction/development of the JRCSA.
Electric fencing is being constructed to run from shore to shore (approx 28km of fence) along the boundary to protect the park. Already the rhino have been observed in areas they have not inhabited for some time and where human disturbance has been removed.
Habitat improvement projects are being implemented including weed eradication programs, forest regeneration, and the creation of further water holes, wallows and salt licks. Guard posts are being erected and another RPU team has been employed. Local communities are also benefiting from this program with employment in the fence construction, weed eradication program and RPU team work forces. The fence construction is expected to be completed before the monsoon season this year.
Having the total population of Javan rhino in one area is dangerous - like having all your eggs in one basket! Natural disaster or a disease outbreak could wipe these animals off the face of the earth forever. Longer term, we hope to be able to study the rhino in this area and eventually identify individuals for a relocation program to other parks where the rhino once inhabited before.
On a recent trip to the area, we were honoured to meet with the Head of Ujung Kulon NP - Pak Agus Priambudi and his teams working so hard on the relocation of the local people from within the park. We also met one of the village chiefs who was very supportive of the work being done to save their rhino and their park. It was quite a touching moment!
Most of our time was spent with the Ujung Kulon RPU team who have been working tirelessly on moving forward the JaRhiSCA project. The team also gave us a formal presentation on the work they are doing as well as escorted us around the park to see progress for ourselves. Our first destination was to the study area of Gunung Honje where we met with engineering team, National Park Community Liaison Officer and Chief of local village. The team showed us the starting point of the fence line and the first guard post construction. We were then escorted to an area where the Arenga palm had taken over a 100ha part of the park. The devastation caused by this weed was obvious - nothing grows under it and it was easy to see how the rhino carrying capacity of the park has been reduced.
Note: many of the staff involved in construction of this base camp building contracted Malaria. Nine of a team of ten to be exact! This is an unfortunate risk working in this area and it affects our RPU teams as well. Issues like these will also impact on construction progress.
It was not all trekking - we canoed up the Cigenteur River to a known rhino wallow where we observed old rhino scrapings, footprints and vegetation that had been fed upon by rhino. We also visited the banteng feeding ground, however, no banteng were seen. We travelled by sea to Peucang Island where we were shown habitat which has been unchanged since Krakatau erupted over 100yrs ago - an example of why rhino don’t do so well in primary forest (no saplings to feed on and trees too high to reach). From there we went to the mainland opposite and walked into cascade area of UKNP which is the parks primary spring and water source. Three rhino had used the track we followed in the past month in both directions. One of the rhino tracks were estimated to be only 2 days old. Interestingly, rhino had not stopped to feed on the track - seemed to be on a mission to get from point A to B.