Indonesia Spearheads International Year of the Rhino

JAKARTA, Indonesia, June 7, 2012 (ENS) – To stave off the extinction of Indonesia’s two Critically Endangered rhinoceros subspecies, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Tuesday declared World Environment Day as the start of the International Year of the Rhino.

President Yudhoyono said he took this step at the request of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and other conservation organizations, with the support of the 11 countries inhabited by rhinos.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announces the International Year of the Rhino at the State Palace, June 5, 2012 (Photo by Cahyo courtesy Office of the President)

Because the future survival of both the Javan and Sumatran rhinos depends on effective conservation action in Indonesia, the government of Indonesia has pledged to establish a high-level rhino task force of national and international experts.

“Our country is a country of megabiodiversity, a country with a very large biodiversity and high levels of endemic species,” President Yudhoyono said at a World Environment Day celebration in Jakarta. “More than 10 percent of the diversity of flora and fauna on Earth is found only in Indonesia, including orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinos, thousands of species of birds, and plant species.”

President Yudhoyono said he wants the International Year of the Rhino to inspire cooperation for rhino conservation among Indonesian government agencies, Indonesian communities and the leaders of nongovernmental organizations, both domestically and internationally.

Indonesia will make rhino conservation “part of strengthening our nation’s reputation as one of the global leaders of environmentally sound economic development,” the President said.

The Indonesian government has agreed to allocate sufficient resources to enforce protection of remaining rhino populations, and ensure that there is regular and intensive monitoring of all rhino populations in Indonesia.

Two Sumatran rhinos in an Indonesian forest (Photo courtesy IUCN)

Indonesian Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said, “One of the programs of the Ministry of Forestry is the protection of endangered animals, such as rhinos, tigers, elephants and orangutans. Among those, the rhinos are closest to extinction. For this reason they need special attention from all of us. In this context, we are inviting and encouraging all stakeholders and world organizations to join the effort to save the rhinos.”

Due to a sharp increase in illegal hunting and non-traditional use of rhino horn, in the last decade, two rhino subspecies, the Indochinese Javan rhinoceros, Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus, in Vietnam, and the Western Black rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis longipes, in Cameroon have gone extinct, according to the IUCN, which maintains the authoritative Red List of threatened Species.

“Two subspecies of rhino have already been lost and it is essential that no full rhino species become condemned to the same fate,” said Dr. Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, who chairs the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Asian Rhino Specialist Group. “The two rhinoceros species closest to extinction are the Javan and Sumatran rhinos, numbering less than 50 and 200 animals respectively, with populations of both thought to be in decline.”

The Javan rhino once occurred from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and probably southern China through peninsular Malaya to the Indonesian island of Java. Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, the species was extirpated from most of its historical range, and now occurs only in two small isolated areas, including Ujung Kulon National Park at the western-most tip of Java.

One of the few surviving Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon National Park, February 2011 (Photo by Indra miracles)

“Rhinos have a significant and important role in the culture of many societies and the extinction of any rhino species is a loss to our cultural heritage as well as our planet’s biological diversity,” said Dr. Talukdar.

Today, the populations of two more rhino subspecies, the mainland population of the Sumatran rhinoceros, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis lasiotus, and the Northern White rhino, Ceratotherium simum cottoni, are both listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

The Sumatran rhinoceros once inhabited an area that stretched from the foothills of the Himalayas in Bhutan and northeastern India, through southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the Malay Peninsula, and onto the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia.

Today, the total population is estimated at fewer than 275 individuals, though probably more than 220, clinging to survival in Sumatra’s parks.

Indonesian conservationists feel supported in their efforts to turn back the tide of extinction facing rhinos by the government’s declaration of the International Year of the Rhino.

Widodo Ramono, director of Yayasan Badak Indonesia [the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia], said the organization is “deeply appreciative of support from the government of Indonesia, the International Rhino Foundation, the private sector and other NGOs for supporting rhino protection, propagation and habitat management.”

“Thanks to the IUCN’s strong support as well as that of its members, the President is demonstrating his strong commitment for rhino conservation by declaring the International Year of the Rhino,” Ramono said. “We must remain focused on the glimmers of hope as we move forward in ensuring that poaching is stopped, that more rhino young are produced and detected, and that habitat for rhino and other threatened species is reclaimed and managed.”

A mother and baby white rhino at a park in Bogor, Indonesia, 2007 (Photo by BelangTang)

“WWF offers its full support for the commitment made by Indonesia’s president to secure a future for the country’s critically endangered rhinos,” said Dr. Efransjah, CEO of WWF-Indonesia. “There is an urgent need to decrease pressures on habitats and to establish a second Javan rhino population in a safer and suitable location. This will be a big endeavor that will require true leadership from government and critical partnerships among scientists, conservation organizations and local communities.”

Highly-focused management and improved conservation measures has been shown to result in rhino population increases. During this International Year of the Rhino, conservationists hope that all rhino range states in Africa and Asia will join Indonesia and give priority to securing their rhino populations.

“Strong and clear political messages from the highest possible levels are required to combat the illegal killing and trade in rhino and the message coming from the President is loud and clear,” said John Scanlon, secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.

“We hope that this bold initiative by Indonesia will serve as a catalyst for further high-level political support and commitments to protect the rhino in the wild across all concerned states,” Scanlon said.

33 rhino horns and 885 ivory pieces seized in Hong Kong, November 2011 (Photo courtesy Hong Kong Customs and Excise)

“The rhino poaching crisis has demonstrated that there is no single solution to addressing illegal wildlife trade, which is an increasing global phenomenon,” said Yolan Friedmann, CEO of the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

“Estimated to be the third largest form of illegal trade, after drugs and human trafficking, wildlife trade often has its roots in organized, trans-boundary crime. For this reason a multi-pronged approach involving the collaboration and cooperation of a diverse range of partners is critical,” Friedmann said. “We hope that this will elevate rhino conservation and the illegal trade in rhino horn to a global priority and ramp up efforts to stem the poaching of rhino.”

Effective conservation by governments in Africa and Asia, in some cases with the support of nongovernmental conservation organizations, has been successful in bringing back the Southern White Rhinoceros, Ceratotherium simum simum, the Black Rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis, and the Indian Rhinoceros, Rhinoceros unicornis, from the brink of extinction.

“The dramatic surge in rhino poaching we are seeing now is linked with increased demand for rhino horn in Asia, particularly among wealthy elites and business people in Vietnam, where it carries prestige as a luxury item, as a post-partying cleanser, and also as a purported cancer cure,” warned Tom Milliken, the rhino trade expert for TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network based in the UK.

“It is critical that Africa’s law enforcement efforts are significantly scaled up and linked with enforcement and demand reduction efforts in consumer markets in Asia,” said Milliken. “We’ll only win this war if both sides align against the criminal syndicates behind this trade.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.