We Found the Sumatran Rhino!
By Maman Suherman
Rhino Protection Unit, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park
In the bright morning of Tuesday, March 10, 2009, we started again our routine activity as members of the Rhino Protection Unit (RPU), to preserve and protect the Sumatran Rhino in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBS). My name is Maman, and I am a member of the RPU in BBS. I wish in my prayers that the Sumatran rhino could increase their population and won’t become extinct. I hope!!
We have already spent 3 days in the jungle, and so far we have not found the Sumatran rhino, but we did find signs, like foot prints. I told my fellow RPU member, Zen Afrial, that the footprints still looked fresh – not more than a day old. We found the fresh footprint near our flying camp, near the river. I also found fresh feces, but it already was mixed with the water. I believe that the feces are from the same rhino near our flying camp. We tried to follow the tracks and we found another footprint of a Sumatran rhino. Our team made a plaster cast to identify the footprint and also as documentation. At the time, we decided to stay overnight near the river and not too far away from the footprint. We made camp nearby, but not in the rhino tracks, and we tried make ourselves invisible. We don’t want disturb the rhino, we need to meet them. All of the team feels the rhino is not too far away from us.
On this survey, we were accompanied by several students from Bogor University; the BBS asked them to follow the RPU activity. As long as they did not disturb us, for me it is fine. At least I can share knowledge and discuss with them. In the morning, before we had breakfast, Zen Afrial and I did an orientation around our camp for the students, and also checked the plaster cast footprint we made yesterday.
After breakfast and after everything was done and packed, we continued the survey and routine activity. We started to follow the rhino tracks we found yesterday. Suddenly, my friend, Zen, said, “Stop!! Don’t move!!! Don’t speak!!” All of us were very curious, wondering what happened, what is going on? I dropped my backpack and plaster cast, and moved slowly close to Zen. Zen said, “I saw the rhino.” He pointed to a bush in front on me. About 6 meters away, I saw something, black, big and moving. Yes, it is a rhino – a Sumatran rhino, and it looked at me. I saw the rhino was in good condition and had a pretty horn. Almost like the horn of ‘Tam’, the Sumatran rhino in Sabah we saw on the internet. I think it is a male rhino. The rhino suddenly ran from us and stopped around 20 meters away, and it looked at us again. (It looked like he wants to say good bye…). Zen and I tried to follow the rhino, and even though we ran, it was impossible to find the rhino again. He has gone, but it is ok, we have met him. Zen had a chance to take a picture although it is not too clear. We went back to the point where we met the rhino, and explored. We found a wallow and we think it is a permanent wallow for rhino. Still fresh!!
We noted all data and information in our report and then we continued following the rhino tracks. For almost half a day we explored this area and finally we concluded that this area is a home range for rhino and also other mammals because we found several footprints from other mammals. Zen, the head of my unit, Johan Marwan, the students, and I, are very lucky. I was not sure I would see the rhino again. Although it is not a first time that I met a rhino, it is the first time in 2009.
Edited and translated by Sectionov.