PROTECTION OF THE SUMATRAN RHINO BY THE RHINO PROTECTION UNIT (RPU) IN GUNUNG LEUSER NATIONAL PARK, SUMATRA, INDONESIA
Period of Activity: 1 September 2012 through 30 September 2013
Funded by: US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) once distributed throughout South-east Asia to the foothills of Himalayas are almost confined to few parts in Indonesia and Malaysia. The species is considered most endangered rhino species (CITES Appendix I). Researchers consider that there are fewer than 250 individuals in the wild and the estimation is not entirely reliable owing to patchy distribution, secretive nature of behavior of animal and difficulties in estimation methods (Zafir et al., 2011). Poaching and habitat loss are considered two key threats for decline of rhinoceros across its range. According to latest estimates rhinoceros are confined to three provinces in Sumatra and one province in Malaysia.
The Program is aimed at constituting two Rhino Protection Units (RPU) in the Leuser Ecosystem area, train them in anti-poaching operations, and strictly protect the areas against any encroachment. Informants work with rural communities and gather information about potential poachers. The RPUs provide a greater opportunity for teams to work with National Park authorities and ensure safety, security of Rhinoceros and help in sustainability of the species. This project is in tune with the Government of Indonesia’s declared Strategy and Action Plan for Rhinoceros Conservation.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
The overall goal of the RPU program is to provide strict protection to the Sumatran rhino, as well as other mega fauna (e.g., tigers and elephants) in Gunung Leuser National Park. Over the long-term, the program aims to increase the Rhino population in the GLNP which in turn will be the source population for the rest of the ecosystem. This goal will be achieved by establishing two anti-poaching units in the Leuser Ecosystem.
Operational Objectives :
1. Constitute anti-poaching units (RPUs) and operate them for effective protection (completed).
- At least 15 days per month intensive patrolling by each of the anti-poaching unit (RPU).
- Detect and remove all traps in the field area, to thwart efforts of poachers to trap rhinos and other fauna.
- Check all potential camping sites, guard entry points to deter and thwart efforts of poachers.
- Detect all encroachments, help national park authorities investigate and prosecute the offenders and get the encroachments removed.
2. Monitor the population of the rhino and other important mammals (completed).
- Continue monitoring the population of key species in the area: rhinos, elephants, tigers, and other endangered species.
3. Conduct awareness camps for communities and trainings for park staff and RPU members.
- Run environmental education camp for the local communities
- Provide specialized training to protection units including government staff for skill enhancement in protection, legal issues.
Develop a systematic protection plan for other parts of the park based on the result of this activity.
RHINO HABITAT SURVEY AND MONITORING OF ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES IN THE LEUSER ECOSYSTEM
Period : February to November 2011
The Leuser International Foundation (LIF) conducted a Sumatran rhino (Decerorhinus sumatrensis) habitat and population survey in the districts of South Aceh and Southeast Aceh in collaboration with the Mount Leuser National Park Agency (BBTNGL) and the Indonesian Rhino Foundation (YABI). This activity, funded by US Fish and Wildlife Service, began in February 2011. Signs or evidence of the presence of the Sumatran rhino in the form of tracks, feces, wallows and splinter were detected. To follow up on this finding the LIF team in cooperation with BBTNGL set up camera traps in the Sumatran rhino habitat area.
The results obtained through this survey would be used for future Sumatran rhino protection programs in the Leuser Ecosystem area. Besides observing the rhino habitat and population, monitoring was also done on illegal activities in the Mount Leuser National Park area. These included poaching, illegal logging, encroachment and the stealing of aloe timber by locals in the rhino habitat area.
Signs of Rhino Presence Detected in the GLNP area:
Members of the Sumatran rhino habitat and population survey team consisting of staff from LIF, BBTNGL, YABI and members of the local community
A YABI staff member shares with the team the techniques to record data of findings on the Sumatran rhino in the GLNP area.
While conducting a social economic survey, the LIF team found 2 ha of land being encroached in the Sumatran rhino habitat area. This would decrease the rhino habitat area in the Leuser Ecosystem.
Aloewood loggers’ camp discovered by the Sumatran rhino habitat survey team. The team found a total of 34 camps from February to October 2011.
Hidden cameras set up by the LIF and BBTNGL survey team detected the illegal activities of aloewood loggers 19 times from 8 September to 14 October 2011 in the Sumatran rhino habitat area
A bird trap found by the survey team in the Sumatran rhino habitat area. A total of 6 bird traps were found from February to October 2011.
Besides doing the Sumatran rhino survey, the LIF team also monitored wildlife trade around the Leuser Ecosystem area. The wildlife trade monitored included the sale of parts of the body of wildlife species. On 5 November 2011, the LIF team succeeded in finding a place where parts of the dead body of the Sumatran tiger and the Sumatran elephant were stored for sale by poachers and illegal traders at Desa Buah Pala in the subdistrict of Lawe Sumur, Southeast Aceh district. The photos shown below were taken by one of the LIF staff posing as a potential buyer. The bones of the wildlife remains in storage weighed approximately 160 kg. According to the plan, these illegal items would be taken to a selling place in the city of Medan in North Sumatra.