By Jajat Sudrajat (Leader of Ujung Kulon RPU Unit II)
My name is Jajat – I am the leader of Ujung Kulon’s Rhino Protection Unit II. This past year, our unit has focused on patrolling and surveying rhinos in the Ujung Kulon peninsula. Our unit is comprised of both senior and junior members. Sorhim and I are senior RPUs, each with 10 years experience, while the other two members, Yadi and Iin are still relatively junior, with around 3 years of experience. I like this combination of junior and senior members – it refreshes me and it’s really good to share each other’s experiences. Each RPU consists of four people that patrol in the forest 20 days per month. The other 10 days is allocated for reporting and resting. Each group is comprised of a unit header that is a forest guard and three members from community that are recruited through special selection and training. The RPU program is a unique collaboration, combining government officers and the local community in professionally securing and patrolling inside the national park area.
On 11 April 2009, we started our patrol and survey into the forest, after receiving logistics and checking all our gear, we began to walk into the forest. We started walking from the upper Cigenteur River and explored the area. As usual, we stopped and made a camp in the late afternoon and then early in the morning we started again to walk and explore the target area. Sometimes we stay quite long in one camp depending on the situation, like if we have information that poachers will come into the area. On the second day, after exploring the area we made a camp near by “Gardu Buruk”. I have no idea why they called this area “Gardu Buruk” or in English ‘bad guard post’.
After making camp near the river, we rested and started to cook, first making tea and coffee. As usual, we began talking, about our job, our activities today, and about our families. When we were drinking coffee, we heard something, like someone walking on upstairs bamboo – harder and harder and it sounded close to us. We all stopped talking. We tried to find where the sound came from. Suddenly, we saw a Javan rhino come to us looking aggressive, and as a reflex, each of us tried to climb the nearest tree. Sorhim, Yadi and Iin climbed the same tree; I tried to climb another tree. Unfortunately, the only tree near me was an Arenga palm (“Langkap”), but I still could climb it. It was amazing to me, because the Arenga palm is usually difficult to climb. It was around 7 pm. Unfortunately, we were in such a hurry, we didn’t grab our camera before climbing the tree and couldn’t take a photo of the Javan rhino. We only can see the rhino from above, in the tree, but at least we can look at the Javan rhino directly and see its behavior. For about 20 minutes, the rhino explored our camp and stood quite long there, and then slowly left our camp. After waiting to be sure it was gone, one by one we came down from the trees.
We tried to explore around our camp to try to see the rhino again. After exploring and not finding the rhino we were back to the camp. We discussed about the rhino that just visited us and tried to figure out why the rhino came to our camp. Sorhim tried to use his mobile phone to call the base camp in Taman Jaya, because sometimes we had a signal for mobile phone in “Gardu Buruk”. After trying and trying, Sorhim succeeded in using his cell phone to contact someone in the base camp. Sorhim explained that we just met with a rhino, I also gave information. Suddenly from behind our camp, the Javan rhino came again to us. Everybody tried to climb the tree again. The rhino looked a little aggressive, might it be that it did not like us staying in its area? Same as before, we could not take a photo because the camera was still in our bag, and unfortunately it was dark and Sorhim’s phone did not have a camera in it. I think if we could have used our camera, we probably would not have taken a good picture anyway because it was too dark. After around 15 minutes exploring our camp, the rhino left. Slowly, we climbed downward from the tree and made sure the rhino had gone.
Together we decided that tomorrow we must move from this area. We suspected this area is the Javan rhino’s home range and it must have a good source of food or a wallow there. We argued and argued. Then we rotated sleeping and standing by in case the rhino came back. Before sleeping, we had to laugh together about everyone jumping up to climb the tree. We were all still tired and nervous. This was not the first time we had met a Javan rhino on patrol – I have seen them at least five times before. But this experience of having two visits in one night was a first.
In the morning we explored the area and we saw the rhino’s fresh foot print and dung. We believe it came from the rhino that visited us last night. We collected all the related data, trying to determine why the rhino preferred to use this area. We saw that the condition of the habitat is very good with food and nearby water and river. After that we continued to walk and move on to explore the other areas in the Peninsula.
We will always remember this experience…
Edited by Sectionov