Seeking the Elusive Badak Jawa

By: Bill Konstant, Program Officer
International Rhino Foundation

Bill Konstant and Javan rhino statue

Our quest for Javan rhinos begins with a visit to the new director of Ujung KJulon National Park, Mohammad Haryono, who gives our team official permission to undertake the project. In addition to being a national park that was created in 1980, Ujung Kulon was also added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1991, selected for its exceptional natural beauty, for holding the largest remaining tract of lowland tropical rainforest on the island of Java, and for its capacity to preserve threatened plant and animal species of global importance.

Route around Ujung Kulon Peninsula from Taman Jaya

We embark from the village of Taman Jaya, located on Java’s western coast. From that point, one could reach the northeastern tip of Ujung Kulon National Park by hiking long trails that lead south along the bay toward the Indian Ocean. Our team of five, however, departs by boat and takes the sea route around the peninsula. The trip requires only a few hours, during which we pass numerous bamboo fishing platforms situated offshore. There’s no fishing activity during the morning hours. Instead, the nets will be lowered at night, kerosene lamps will be lit and hung above the nets, and fish attracted to the lights will be hauled up onto the platform. All while everyone else sleeps.

We land first on the small island of Pulau Peuchang, a tropical paradise of white sand beaches, crystal blue water and coral reefs. “Pulau” means “island” in Bahasa Indonesian and “peuchang” is the local name for “barking deer,” a small Asian hoofed mammal also known as muntjac. Barking deer are common on the island. Our stop here is a short one, mainly to check in at the national park office and visit the small natural history museum. We’re not here to find muntjac.

Beach on Pulau Peucang

A narrow channel separates the island from the point on the peninsula at which our team will embark. Here we unload all our gear for the week and repack it for the trek inland. Our rations are basic – rice, noodles, vegetables, sugar, salt, coffee and tea, and just enough bottled drinking water for a few days. The team consists of myself, Inov (IRF’s Indonesian liaison), Sorhim (a Rhino Protection Unit veteran), and two local porters, Sarnem and Sarkim, who will carry the lion’s share of our provisions and also handle the cooking chores.

Bringing our gear and supplies ashore

Other than the dock at which are boat is tethered, there’s nothing here to indicate that this area was ever inhabited. However, the small village of Djung Kulon once stood here, that is until the fateful day of August 27, 1883, when the nearby island of Krakatau erupted and completely annihilated much of the surrounding region. Djung Kulon was one of more than 160 coastal villages destroyed by the volcano and its residents were among the more than 35,000 people who lost their lives in this catastrophe. The eruption is reported to have produced the biggest bang the world has ever heard, spewed ash as high as 60 miles into the Earth’s atmosphere, and created numerous tsunamis within a 24-hour period, including at least one wave that experts estimate was more than 100 feet tall. It literally flattened the lowland forests of both western Java and southeastern Sumatra. One can hardly imagine the devastation it wreaked on native wildlife, including the Javan and Sumatran rhino populations.

Eruption of Krakatau – August 27, 1883

From here our plan is to head inland, following the path of Cidaon, the Bamboo River. All river names begin with the prefix “Ci”, and this particular water course is noted for the prominent stands of bamboo that flourish along its banks. We’ll pitch our first camp before reaching the ocean, but first we’ll have to pass a traditional grazing ground for one of the other endangered species that inhabit Ujung Kulon – the Javan banteng.

To be continued….

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