Earlier this month, a Rhino Protection Unit (RPU) in Way Kambas National Park successfully arrested two groups of poachers. The poachers were identified in September, at which point the RPUs began to collect information about their activities, including how well-armed they were, and when and where they were most likely to enter the forest. These poachers were not just using snares to capture small mammals such as barking deer and mouse deer. They were equipped with high-caliber rifles and in search of larger game.
On October 2nd the RPUs received warning that the poachers planned to enter Way Kambas, which is home to at least two dozen threatened mammal species including Sumatran rhinos, elephants, tigers and tapirs. RPUs have patrolled the forests of Way Kambas since 1998, and during the last 15 years have come to learn that the large sambar deer (Cervus unicolor), a Vulnerable species, is often sought by poachers. However, sambar remain common throughout much of the national park and the population still appears healthy. The most commonly used strategy for hunting sambar is to burn an area of forest and wait for the vegetation to regrow. Many of the plant species that replace the original vegetation are favored foods of this large deer. When the rainy season arrives, as it just has, the vegetation becomes lush, sambar enter the burned areas to graze and browse, and the poachers return in search of their prey. The average poaching group numbers four to six hunters, and they typically enter the forest under the cover of darkness, usually a couple of hours before sunrise.
In anticipation of such a pre-dawn entrance, the RPUs took their positions at about 2:00 am, hiding at a point along the park boundary where they believed the poachers would pass on their way in. Instead, a couple of hours later, a single poacher approached them from the opposite direction, attempting to leave the park carrying his rifle, a bicycle and a dead sambar. Before he realized it, the RPUs surrounded him and he was arrested without a fight.
Questioning the suspect, the RPUs learned that he was one of six poachers who had entered the forest together and had killed the deer using both guns and machetes. The group then separated. The arrested poacher led the RPUs to a spot where two other dead sambar had been hidden, and he eventually provided information that should lead to the arrests of his five accomplices by national park forest guards and the local police. The poachers may have escaped that night, but they left behind some significant evidence – six bicycles, a rifle, a machete and two cell phones –which link them to this wildlife crime.