Sorhim. Like many Indonesians, he has only one name. Sorhim has protected Javan rhinos since 1999. He grew up next to Ujung Kulon National Park — and he wasn’t always a conservationist.
When was young, Sorhim farmed with his family near the park and spent every spare minute exploring Ujung Kulon’s dense rain forest. He knew the ways of the jungle and could stay in the forest up to 15 days at a time, with very little equipment. Sometimes, Sorhim now ashamedly admits, he collected swallow nests and sold them to illegal buyers to support his family. At the time, he did not know he was breaking the law. Sorhim’s family was too poor to continue paying for his education past elementary school. Living off the land was a means of survival.
In early 1990, Ujung Kulon forest rangers asked Sorhim (who, because of his profound knowledge of the forest, was nicknamed “the flying bird of Ujung Kulon”) to accompany them to look for Javan rhinos. He learned from the forest guards that collecting swallow nests was illegal and came to understand how important protecting the rhinos from illegal hunting is for Ujung Kulon National Park and local people.
The Rhino Protection Unit (RPU) program started in Ujung Kulon in 1998, and there were many applicants. One condition to apply was that potential RPUs had to have attended high school. Sorhim could not apply because he had only finished elementary school — but the Park Director and many of the forest guards made recommendations that this requirement be waived for him because of Sorhim’s depth of knowledge about the park and its wildlife.
Sorhim passed all the tests to become an RPU member and joined the program in 1999. Since then, he has seen the elusive Javan rhino more than 20 times (he says he’s stopped counting), fought poachers and even survived a full day in extreme heat without water. His knowledge of the forest is legendary, and on surveys he can readily identify more than 90 percent of the park’s plants.
“I love my job. As an RPU member, I am protecting the Javan rhino and one of the most special places on Earth,” said Sorhim. “My son and two daughters can attend school because I can support my family. That makes me very proud.”