Hard, slippery hiking in the rain and mud

By Sectionov
IRF Indonesia Liaison, Bogor, Indonesia

Ujung Kulon
In the end of February 2009, IRF Executive Director Dr. Susie Ellis (or in Indonesia we call her Ibu Susie) and several rhino experts, Dr. Bibhab Talukdar – IRF Asian Rhino Coordinator, Kerry Crosbie – Director of the Asian Rhino Project, Remco van Merm – Netherlands, Pak Widodo Ramono (Executive Director of YABI Indonesia) and Pak Agus Priambudi (Head of Ujung Kulon National Park) were accompanied by the Ujung Kulon Rhino Protection Units, to visit Ujung Kulon NP. Actually, it is not a good time to visit Ujung Kulon because it is the rainy, wet season as well as northwest monsoon session in which there are sometimes very bad storms.  

Pak Uus, Bibhab, Ibu Susie, Remco, Kerry and Pak Agus taking a coffee break in the forest

Pak Uus, Bibhab, Ibu Susie, Remco, Kerry and Pak Agus taking a coffee break in the forest

Ujung Kulon National Park was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO under the decree No: SC/Eco/5867.2.409, after considering the highly unique conservation area as the habitat of the last remaining population of the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus).  The Javan rhino is possibly the world’s rarest large. No more than 50 Javan rhinos live in Ujung Kulon National Park. For the last 15 years, the population has not grown.

Ujung Kulon National Park is located in the south-western corner of the island of Java, Indonesia. It covers an area of about 300 km², including the entire Ujung Kulon peninsula, the islands of Peucang, Handeleum and Panaitan and part of the mainland, including Mount Honje – its eastern slopes define the border of the Park.
Ujung Kulon National Park lies within the administrative Province of Banten and the District of Pandeglang. The point-to-point ocean boundary encloses Ujung Kulon Peninsula and the offshore islands of Pulau Handeleum and Pulau Peucang, whilst the island of Pulau Panaitan is separated by the 10 km-wide Panaitan Straits. The eastern boundary follows contours along the eastern foothills of the Gunung Honje massif. Ujung Kulon National Park comprises 120,551 hectares (ha) (terrestrial 76,214 ha; marine 44,337 ha). 
Vegetation has been subject to a number of anthropogenic and natural modifications, of which the most notable is the 1883 Krakatau eruption. As a result, primary lowland rain forest, the natural vegetation cover, now occupies only 50% of the total area, being largely confined to the Gunung Payung and Honje massifs.

Hard, slippery hiking in the rain and mud

We started trekking from the Rhino Protection Unit (RPU) camp in Taman Jaya.  We had a plan to hike in the park to look for rhinos and also to inspect the area in which we propose to build a Javan Rhino Sanctuary (JRS).  After visiting Ujung Kulon, there was a meeting of the IUCN/SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group (AsRSG) in Bogor and one of topics is the possibility to build JRS in Ujung Kulon, with the eventual aim to translocate a group of rhinos to establish a second population.  Accompanied by the RPUs, we started trekking in the rain.          

Ibu Susie with the RPUs

Ibu Susie with the RPUs

One of the highlights of this trip was spending time with the RPUs.  These uniformed men are the front lines of rhino conservation, believing so strongly in the preservation of the rhino that they put their lives on the line to provide rhinos the protection necessary to eradicate poaching. The RPU consists of 4 people in each group that patrol 15 days in a month; the other 10 days is allocated for reporting and rest.  Each group is comprised of a unit header that is a forest guard and three members from the local community.  These members are recruited through special selection and training. IRF, in collaboration with YABI, recently hired an additional RPU in Ujung Kulon NP.  RPU is a unique collaboration, which combining government officer and the community in professionally securing and patrolling the national park area and ensuring good management. 

Even though, in fact, the RPU has the task of securing the rhinoceros’ habitat, because the rhino has a vast home range, other species are also protected.  The RPUs have had many findings and cases such as apprehension of illegal hunters and illegal loggers.  
Although this is not a first time for our group to visit Ujung Kulon NP, this trip was a hard one because of the wet and slippery hiking in the rain and mud.   Conditions of Ujung Kulon NP are tropical maritime, with a seasonal mean annual rainfall of approximately 3,249 mm.  Salute to Ibu Susie and Ibu Kerry from the Asian Rhino Project – they are really tough during the trip, in the mud and hard rain.  This trip gave a new spirit and support to the RPUs and was especially important to the new members of the Ujung Kulon RPUs. They were really a proud and happy because of the attention and support from donors (IRF, ARP and YABI) as well as the fact that the leaders of these organizations trekked together with them Ujung Kulon’s deep forests.    

RPUs and Ibu Susie crossing river, UKNP, Indonesia

RPUs and Ibu Susie crossing river, UKNP, Indonesia

During our trek with the RPUs, we found several signs of Javan rhino such as foot prints, wallows and another sign (feeding and rub marks of Javan rhino horn).  Together with the RPUs, we identified and discussed the possibility of building a temporary holding area for Javan rhinos.  We also visited the isthmus area, which Dr. Nico van Strien suggested 4 years ago.  This was a good trip that gave us the chance to assess the condition of the Park.     
We are very appreciative and thankful to Ibu Susie as IRF Executive Director and also the RPUs call her “our mother”.   And as Ibu Susie said, “Hard, slippery hiking in the rain and mud. I’ve never been so tired or dirty in my life. But we had a great time!”

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