Community Outreach Helps Protect Sumatran Rhinos
By Aris Hendriyanto
Protecting wildlife and their habitat is the main job of the Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) in Way Kambas National Park. On patrol we often find illegal activities such as logging, fishing and poaching, and sometimes we have to arrest people. We send them to the jail, but this doesn’t always stop them. Sometimes, even after spending time in jail, they return to the national park to cut logs, catch fish, and try to shoot or trap other animals.
Every month our units meet and we discuss this problem. We all agree that it’s important to understand the lives of local people and what makes them break the law. So, our job is not just to arrest lawbreakers, but also to educate them and help them change their ways. Each month the RPUs work with the national park staff and meet with local communities, especially the farmers. This is not our main job, but it is becoming more important all the time. My friend Bonari and I began community outreach work in the village of Seputih Surabaya, located in central Lampung province. We chose this village because, based on intelligence information, a number of suspected poachers live there.
When we met with the farmers of Seputih Surabaya, we learned that their biggest need was fertilizer for their crops, so we helped them buy fertilizer at a lower cost and plant cacao. This strengthened their trust in the RPUs,and they began to provide useful information about the poaching suspects we had identified. The farmers made it possibe for us to meet with the suspects and interview them. As a result, a number of former suspects have become reliable informants and have helped warn us of illegal activities before they actually take place. The prevention program is working well. Last year, the number of illegal activities in Way Kambas National Park was less than the year before.