Saving the Javan Rhino
Patty Pearthree July 1994
Ujung Kulon National Park
Patty Pearthree, AAZK Bowling For Rhinos Coordinator
See Photo Collection
Saving The Javan Rhino
Patty Pearthree, Zoo Keeper, Coordinator Bowling For Rhinos
As National Coordinator for the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) Bowling For Rhinos fundraiser, I was given the unique opportunity to visit Ujung Kulon National Park, Java, Indonesia. My task was to investigate the funding needs of the park to be sure it was a worthwhile project for the association. As a keeper by trade, I have dedicated my life to caring for animals while our communities learn they are worth saving in the wild. It is every keepers dream to be able to see the animals they care for in the wild and my dream was about to come true.
Zoos throughout the country are saving the Javan Rhino by participating in Bowling For Rhinos. Money raised during this fundraiser goes directly to an "in situ" (on location) conservation project which protects the unique and threatened ecosystem of Ujung Kulon, a World Heritage Site, and the last refuge of the Javan rhino. In this extremely valuable conservation area, with its wide range of tropical flora, fauna and natural features, first priority is given to the protection and preservation of everything that occurs naturally within the park. Ujung Kulon is a 300 square mile National Park on the western tip of Java, Indonesia.This isolated park is home to the last 47 Javan rhinos in the world along with hundreds of other rare plant and animal species. Beyond the risks of natural disaster, genetic problems and disease that all small, isolated populations must face, the threat of poaching still looms large in Ujung Kulon (the Javan Tiger was poached to extinction 30 years ago.)
The Javan rhino is a very elusive animal and many researchers spend years studying in the field with only a few brief glimpses of the rhino. No zoos in the world have these rare animals. So little is known about the Javan rhino that zoos don't dare take it from its native habitat. Instead, they work to protect the rhino in its own habitat where all its specific needs can be met.
Patty Pearthree, Zoo Keeper, Coordinator Bowling For Rhinos
The Javan rhino has become the official symbol for Ujung Kulon National Park. Efforts to protect this flagship species and its habitat will do much more than safeguard a living symbol of this wilderness, they will help preserve one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Over 40 mammal species inhabit the park including the Javan rhino, Javan gibbon, leaf monkeys, Javan tree shrew, flying lemur, banteng, wild dog, leopard, binturong, civet, small clawed otter and hairy-nosed otter. More than 250 bird species, many rare reptiles and amphibians including the green sea turtle and saltwater crocodile, and more than 50 rare species of plants inhabit Ujung Kulon. I found a very primitive people in a park in its infancy with unlimited potential. In Sumatra, the island directly to the west, the Sumatran rhino population has dwindled from 500 to 150 over the last couple years. Many fear poachers may soon turn to Java. Ujung Kulon park guards need to be trained to deal with these ruthless poachers. Guard posts need to be built in more strategic locations to stop boats from entering the park. Park guards need to be equipped with communications gear (radios & repeaters,) surveillance gear (binoculars, cameras, geographical positioning systems, etc.,) and survival gear (backpacks, water filter units, canteens, etc. ) to ward off these poachers and gather species statistics. Guards also need the support of their government to prosecute these poachers before a carcass is found. $15,000 U.S. can build a fully equipped guard post (this includes well, building, furniture, solar lighting.)
Even more important was our presence in the park and its surrounding community. In addition to Dr. Ron Tilson, Conservation Director from the Minnesota Zoo, who was responsible for the Minnesota Zoo's Adopt-A-Park program which assists Ujung Kulon, was myself representing AAZK, my husband Herbie (unofficial photographer,) and two Minnesota Conservation Officers that were establishing relationships and future projects with the guards of this unique ecosystem. To the guards disbelief, were people from half way around the world willing to help them save this ecosystem. The friendships established through this experience spread throughout the community and last for a lifetime. You can bet these guards are given added incentive to care about the wildlife and are thankful to be able to do so.
My visit allowed me to see how desperately money is needed at Ujung Kulon and the vast potential our money will bring to insure the survival of the Javan rhino. The relationship we began to build with the Indonesian guards is extremely valuable. In cooperation with Ujung Kulon National Park, The Minnesota Zoo, and the Conservation Officers Association of America, we will work to fund three new guard posts, communications equipment, patrol boats and guard equipment over the next couple years.
After a grueling flight which took us across the date line, we left civilization at the Jakarta airport and were driven to Lebuan, Ujung Kulon National Park headquarters. We met with the head of the park, Chief Agoes, and all the park guards. Detailed park needs were discussed and prioritized. Here we also met Budi (pronounced boo-dee), a park guard, who would be our guide and story-teller for the next week . Then we were off on a four-hour bumpy jeep ride through primitive villages and some of the prettiest countryside I have ever seen. The sites were so breathtaking that we barely noticed the bumps in the road even after we had broken off both handles from the doors in our attempts to stay in place on our seats. We arrived in Tamanjaya, a village and main guard post, at dusk. Everywhere we went the Indonesians were there watching these funny Americans with all their camera equipment. They stood in awe of us while we were busily taking pictures to try to convey our sense of wonderment to the folks back home. A dinner of rice, noodles, fish and SPAM would bring a close to each day for the next week. We would visit each of the five guard posts by touring the peninsula by boat and trekking through the rainforest or along the beaches.
At dawn, we set off on a 38 foot wooden boat around the northern tip of Ujung Kulon to Peucang island, the site of another guard post. Here we were greeted by crab eating macaques (primates) which lined the beach and watched our every move. As we snorkled off the white sand beach amongst the coral reef, we realized ours were the only human footprints for miles (our macaque audience continued to sit on the beach.) The monkeys later raided our camp, stealing supplies and interrupting our dinner by leaping onto our plates and scattering the rice to a more acceptable dining location for them, the ground. As we watched the sunset over the rainforest, the rusa deer came out to the clearing to feed and soon we were amongst a hundred deer and monkeys.
The next morning we trekked through the lowland rainforest along the western tip of Ujung Kulon to Ciramea. This is the location of a future guard post overlooking a beach where the endangered green turtle lay eggs. Ciramea faces south west into the Indian Ocean and on clear days one can see Sumatra. Back on the boat once more, we headed back to Handeleum island to stay at the guard post overnight.
The next morning we ventured up the Cigenter river in dugout canoes through the tropical rainforest. It is this type of river and its wallows that the Javan Rhino visit, so we kept our eyes peeled for this elusive animal. We disembarked the canoe to hike into the forest. By the end of the hike, my shirt was soaked with sweat, but my exhaustion was soon forgotten. We discovered day-old rhino tracks of 28 and 14 centimeters in diameter. This was an adult and young rhino which could only mean one thing, the rhinos are still finding one another and breeding in the park. Mud caked on the trees from the rhino wallowing up the riverbank indicated the animals height, and partially eaten vegetation with the leaves chewed off with a straight edge was evidence of a rhinos dinner. We considered ourselves lucky that day.
The rest of the trek took us through jungle and coastline visiting current and potential guard posts. At each post, we had the opportunity to speak with the guards about their problems and needs for the area. Our daily encounters included dense rain- forest overfilled with animal songs, beautiful white coral-sand and volcanic beach-fronts, and wonderfully friendly people.
Our journey brought us half way around the world to see the home of one of the most endangered animals on earth. We met key people, both in the field and in the offices, who would help us save these animals and their splendid habitat. We left with an overall excitement in the fact that thousands of people, separated by thousands of miles, can work together in preserving an biological and ecological time capsule for future generations to enjoy.