Less than a month ago, Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) discovered a group of six poachers who had killed three sambar deer in Sumatra’s Way Kambas National Park. The sambar (Rusa unicolor) is a large Asian deer species, stags sometimes reaching five feet at the shoulder and tipping the scales at more than 500 pounds. The arrest of one poacher attempting to escape with one of the dead deer led authorities to his five accomplices.
While that operation can be chalked up as a limited success, it certainly didn’t eliminate the threat of poaching. That became evident only a week later when Way Kambas RPUs and national park forest guards apprehended a second group of poachers, also hunting sambar. The second encounter was far more dangerous, however. A gunfight ensued, but all five suspects eventually were subdued without casualties on either side. Unfortunately, the group had already killed one deer.
Once again, someone in the local intelligence network had tipped off the RPUs regarding the poachers’ plans, so the unit was well positioned to intercept the suspects and make arrests. In addition to the dead sambar, weapons and ammunition were among the evidence collected for prosecution. More importantly, the poachers provided information about another group of hunters who they believe are also planning to shoot deer in the national park. The hope is that the RPUs and local authorities will be able to confront these individuals and prevent the hunt from occurring, instead of having to fight armed poachers at night in the forest.
The rich wildlife of Way Kambas National Park represents a tempting target for poachers, so these protection programs must continue for the foreseeable future. Perhaps the consequences suffered by those who have been caught – arrest, fines and imprisonment – will deter other would-be poachers from taking the same risk.