Five Hours in the River
By Amrodi, Way Kambas Rhino Protection Unit (RPU)
One day, while patrolling in the northern section of Way Kambas National Park, we received a report of illegal logging activity. Recently in that area of the park, there has been lots of illegal logging which also disturbs rhino habitat. After arriving at the location, we heard a chainsaw but it was still quite far away. We tried to follow the noise. Slowly and carefully, our team walked to the location, crossing a river on the way.
After three hours of walking, we arrived at the location. We saw three people cutting trees with chainsaws. Two of the men had heard us coming and ran away, but one of them was still cutting a tree and we were able to catch him and arrest him. We tried to interrogate him, to ask where he came from, and to find out who is in charge of the illegal logging operations. We collected all evidence and took a picture of him, and then wrote our report. Although we chased the other loggers, unfortunately they disappeared.
After interrogating and collecting all information from the illegal logger, we called our base camp via walkie talkie and asked to be picked up at the check point. It was going to take us at least four hours to walk to the check point, and it would not be easy, because we had to also bring the logger in handcuffs. So we decided to take a shortcut, but we had to cross two rivers, Way Nibung and Way Pegadungan. The second river was quite deep.
Luckily, we had confiscated one small boat belonging to the suspect and several big plastic bottles that were used as gasoline containers. Our team, with the suspect, was seven people, but the boat could only hold three. Our head of unit and one member of the RPU accompanied the suspect across the river. Meanwhile I and the other members decided to swim across the river. I hate to swim across this river because there are too many mosquitos and leeches, but we had to do it.
Each of us used one of the big plastic bottles to help us float and swim across the river. We started across the river at 6:00 PM — almost dark. When we started to cross, we realized the current was much higher and stronger that we had thought. We were swept down the river, and we just had to float along, using the plastic bottles, trying to survive. We were in the river for more than 5 hours before we were able to climb out and then make it to the checkpoint around midnight. It was terrifying.
After arriving at the checkpoint, we used the RPU boat to go to the base camp – another three hour trip – and then drove the suspect to the National Park office, where we handed him over to the police. I will never forget this experience – probably the hardest since I joined the RPU. It’s not an easy job, but I’m proud to be a member of the Rhino Protection Unit.