The Critically Endangered Sumatran Rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) once ranged over several thousand miles in Southeast Asia, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, probably numbering in the thousands. Today, however, just a few more than one hundred animals are believed to survive, following a decline by over 50% in the last two decades. The most severe threats to the world's remaining Sumatran Rhinos are the loss of tropical forest habitats and poaching to supply the illegal international trade in rhino horn. Besides, rhinos are not the only victims as poachers also hunt other threatened species such as Sumatran Elephants, Sumatran Tigers and Malayan Tapirs.
The project team, from the local NGO Yayasan Badak Indonesia, with supervision by the International Rhino Foundation, will be working in partnership with Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry to provide round-the-clock protection for Sumatran Rhinos in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP) and Way Kambas National Park (WKNP), which are home to two of the three remaining viable populations of Sumatran Rhinos.
Twelve Rhino Protection Units (RPUs), composed of 1 wildlife ranger and 3 local recruits, will patrol and survey the two national parks, each team working in the field for at least 15 days a month. RPUs typically remove traps and snares, apprehend poachers and other illegal intruders, and record signs of rhino presence. Regular joint patrols with National Park guards will be set up to help improve the effectiveness of conservation efforts.
To further prevent poaching, the project will support the prosecution of illegal activities through intelligence and crime evidence collection by RPUs and through the training of police and judiciary staff on the seriousness of wildlife crime.
In order to combat the growing encroachment problem and gather support for rhino protection in BBSNP, the park authorities have begun working on alternative income schemes for local communities, in particular through a development programme primarily focused on cacao production. The project staff will contribute, informing farmers and securing their participation, providing training and inputs for sustainable agriculture and documenting results.
The goal is to reverse the decline in the world's Sumatran Rhino population. Through RPUs and advocacy efforts towards a tougher persecution of wildlife crime, the project is aiming for zero rhino poaching and a 50% reduction in the poaching of other species (Sumatran Tigers, Sumatran Elephants). Local communities will benefit from the project through direct employment and an expected 20% increase in agricultural income. This will in turn spur local support and ownership for conservation efforts.