By Boston Kaloko
The Way Kanan river area of Way Kambas National Park provides good habitat for Sumatran rhinos. It was about 11 years ago, when one of the Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) first took a photo of a Sumatran rhino wallowing in the Way Kanan. That was when we were still using pocket cameras with negative film, so the picture was not very good. A few years earlier, in 1999, we found foot prints of a baby rhino and its mother at the same location, so we were pleased that the rhino population was doing well.
However, in 2000 many local people began moving into the area. They began planting cassava, hunting, trapping and fishing, and the rhinos started moving away. Slowly, year by year, human encroachment grew and we didn’t find any more signs of Sumatran rhinos, not even a foot print or a scratch on a tree. According to our database, signs of rhinos diappeared from the Way Kanan area and the animals moved away to the central part of the national park.
It wasn’t until 2010 that we were able to take action. The RPUs worked with the national park staff, the police department and the army to remove all encroachment from the park. The operation took one full month, but we cleared 3,500 hectares of all illegal activities. This is a difficult thing to accomplish in Indonesia, so we were very proud of our success.
Since the successful removal of illegal campsand activities,the RPUs and national park staff have carefully monitored the area. In January 2012, about a year-and-a-half later, we found permanent wallows, feeding signs and scratches on trees – all signs that the rhinos were returning. We were surprised and very, very happy. After being gone from Way Kanan for 11 years, the rhinos were back. And we continue to find their signs when we patrol that area. In our opinion, the rhinos are paying us back for protecting them.
Translated and edited by Inov