May 17, 2011
Javan rhino mother and calf photographed by a camera trap at Ujung Kulon. Photo courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund.
Operation Javan Rhino is a multi-layered project which links field conservation, habitat restoration, and management efforts with the interests of local governments and communities.
The following is an interview with Susie Ellis, Executive Director of the International Rhino Foundation.
AN INTERVIEW WITH SUSIE ELLIS
Mongabay: Please tell our readers about Operation Javan Rhino and the goals of this project.
The Critically Endangered Javan Rhino, now found only in Ujung Kulon National Park of Indonesia. Photo courtesy of: International Rhino Foundation.
There was a smaller population of Javan Rhinos "rediscovered" in South Vietnam in the early 1990s, but we believe that this population has recently gone extinct due to widespread local poaching. Now there is a population of no more then 50 rhinos in one location, Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java. The rhinos currently only use two-thirds of the park, and Operation Javan Rhino's goal is to expand the rhino's "usable habitat," in the hopes that they will move into the expanded, restored areas, leading to an increase in numbers.
Mongabay: Is there other habitat available beyond Ujung Kulon that might be suitable for a second, relocated population of Javan Rhinos?
Susie Ellis: We held extensive habitat assessments and looked at multiple locations across Java to see if there were other workable sites where we might establish a second population in the short-term. Currently there really isn't anyplace else on Java that is suitable; locations lacked either appropriate food stuff for the rhinos and/or appropriate altitude. The Javan Rhinoceros is a low-altitude species and most of the remaining forests in Java are in the mountains of that island and not ideal for this species. Our long-term goal, though, is to use the expanded and managed habitat at Ujung Kulon to further study the Javan Rhino, encouraging reproduction, and as a staging area to establish additional populations in Indonesia.
Mongabay: It's a prevailing thought in conservation circles that habitat restriction is what has limited Javan Rhino numbers at Ujung Kulon; what are your thoughts in this matter?
Expanding the habitat of the Javan rhino: area outlined in right-hand section of this map. Map courtesy of International Rhino Foundation. Click image to enlarge.
This effort will only augment the rhino population incrementally, and our long-term goal is to establish a second population at a yet to be determined site, probably on the neighboring island of Sumatra.
A large part of the current effort also focuses on getting rid of an invasive, non-native palm species, the arenga palm, which growing unchecked, is displacing rhino food sources at Ujung Kulon.
Mongabay: Tell us about the invasive palm species; was it introduced by man and is it a symptom of degraded habitat?
An un-welcome addition to the local flora: the arenga palm (Arenga obtusifolia). Photo courtesy of: International Rhino Foundation.
Mongabay: Can this be done large scale and cost effectively? It seems like digging up widespread invasive plants requires a lot of work?
Susie Ellis: This is where our close working relationships with the local communities bordering the park has come into play. Our plan is to work with the local villagers and employ them in the campaign to clear the new habitat of this palm. This employment, of course, enhances their lives and creates direct local benefit from the rhinos.
Mongabay: Is there outreach with the local communities about this rhino?
Susie Ellis: There is a great deal of regional pride in regard to the fact that this is the only place on earth where the Javan Rhino exists. We have had to work closely with the local government and communities to foster this understanding. This has been a little bit difficult at times because there was so much encroachment on the park. The government has actually moved 50 families to make way for more adequate management strategies. By creating direct, local benefits from the rhino through habitat management employment, eco-tourism revenues, and educational outreach, the local people are now valuing the Javan rhinoceros as a local resource.
Mongabay: It sounds like the local communities and governments have stepped up. Has the National Government of Indonesia supported this project?
Indonesian government officials launch new study area (fenced habitat). Photo courtesy of: International Rhino Foundation.
Mongabay: Are there any thoughts to further manage the Javan Rhino by developing a captive population?
Susie Ellis: There are no Javan rhinos in captivity currently, and there are no plans to develop a captive population. That may be something we change to offer further insurance for this species. And, though we now know how to keep Sumatran rhinos in captivity, which have similar requirements and diets, this was developed by a trial and error process that was initially very costly, in terms of captive rhinos. There are too few Javan rhinos left to work with in the process of "building a captive population management learning curve." Conserving the Javan rhinoceros in the wild is a much more practical approach.
Mongabay: Do you think there is a viable population at Ujung Kulon? Is there real hope for this species?
Beneficiaries of a Volcano? In 1883, the nearby volcanic island, Krakatoa, violently erupted, clearing most of human settlements in the area of Ujung Kulon. This event inadvertently created the last sanctuary of the Javan Rhino. Photo courtesy of: International Rhino Foundation.
Mongabay: There are many people who would argue that it’s a lot of effort for one species. Why save the Javan Rhino?
Susie Ellis: My personal thoughts are that I would not want to look into the eyes of my children or my grandchildren and say "we could have saved the Javan rhino, if we had just tried a little harder."
People of this generation are now realizing that we are indeed the "stewards of this planet," and we have a responsibility to preserve the planet's biodiversity for the next generations. The Javan rhinoceros represents a flagship species and symbolizes a whole swath of lost lowland rainforest habitat in Indonesia. Healthier local environments mean better lives for people.
In the process of saving species like the Javan rhino, we are really bringing our own human world into order, to the benefit of all.
ASIA PULP & PAPER'S JAVAN RHINO ANNOUNCEMENT
As this interview went to press, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a paper products brand now headquartered in of China but with operations in Sumatra and other places, announced a $300,000 contribution over five yeas to Javan rhino conservation efforts. Mongabay.com asked Susie Ellis about APP's pledge.
Mongabay: Asia Pulp & Paper, a controversial logging firm with a somewhat notorious record of greenwashing, recently announced it is supporting Javan Rhino conservation. What are your thoughts on this initiative? Do any Javan rhino conservation groups work with APP at present?
Susie Ellis: The Javan rhino exists in Indonesia because of the commitment of the central government to conserving the species, and also because of long-term financial support from the International Rhino Foundation, WWF, and the Asian Rhino Project. These three NGOs have contributed nearly US$10 million to operate on-the-ground rhino protection in Java and southern Sumatra since 1999. With the Ujung Kulon National Park authority, these groups, along with a local NGO, Yayasan Badak Indonesia, have developed and are implementing the Javan rhino project in question. The project is well underway and the majority of funds are in place. A relatively small donation (especially in comparison to their billions of dollars in annual revenue) from APP to the Indonesian government does not mean that they play a role in the on-the-ground conservation of this species. From the NGO perspective, this contribution appears to be truly an attempt to greenwash the company’s image.
Many of the major wildlife conservation NGOs, both in Indonesia and internationally, have publicly come out against APP and their methods, with well-documented claims of illegal logging and habitat destruction as well as legally questionable road construction through important wildlife habitat. There also have been accusations of human rights violations by indigenous communities. APP has broken signed agreements with several major international environmental organizations, including the Forest Stewardship Council and the Rainforest Alliance. Many major international companies, including WalMart, Office Depot, Staples, Tiffany & Co., Hugo Boss, and H&M, have stopped buying APP paper products due to their negative environmental practices. I think this speaks volumes.
And as they are making the donation we are discussing, Asia Pulp & Paper and their parent company, Sinar Mas Group, have permits pending to clear a significant part of central Sumatra’s Bukit Tigapuluh forest landscape, an ecosystem that provides vital habitat for more than 30 Sumatran tigers, 150 Sumatran elephants, and 130 orangutans, which have recently been reintroduced. The area is also home to two indigenous tribes.
International Rhino Foundation
Belief and butchery: how lies and organized crime are pushing rhinos to extinction
(05/11/2011) Few animals face as violent, as well organized, and as determined an enemy as the world's rhinos. Across the globe rhinos are being slaughtered in record numbers; on average more than one rhino is killed by poachers everyday. After being shot or drugged, criminals take what they came for: they saw off the animal's horn. Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which claims that it has curative properties, rhino horn is worth more than gold and cocaine on the black market. However, science proves all this cash and death is based on a lie. 'There is no medicinal benefit to consuming rhino horn. It has been extensively analyzed in separate studies, by different institutions, and rhino horn was found to contain no medical properties whatsoever,' says Rhishja Larson.
Video: camera trap proves world's rarest rhino is breeding
(02/28/2011) There may only be 40 left in the world, but intimate footage of Javan rhino mothers and calves have been captured by video-camera trap in Ujung Kulon National Park, the last stand of one of the world's most threatened mammals. Captured by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Indonesia's Park Authority, the videos prove the Javan rhinos are, in fact, breeding. "The videos are great news for Javan rhinos," said Dr. Eric Dinerstein chief scientist at WWF, adding that "there are no Javan rhinos in captivity—if we lose the population in the wild, we’ve lost them all."
Rarest rhino caught on film wallowing in mud with calf
(03/06/2009) In a scene that appears out of an old jungle movie, The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has caught the world’s rarest rhino on film. With less than 60 Javan rhinos estimated to exist in the wild, it is one of the world’s most imperiled species.