Javan rhino, the unicorn from Ujung Kulon

Javan rhino, the unicorn from Ujung Kulon

Photo of rhino named Luther from a trail cam in Ujung Kulon National Park, Banten. (ANTARA PHOTOS/HO-KLHK)

Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is one of the five remaining species of rhino in the world and currently found only in the Ujung Kulon peninsula, Banten Province, Indonesia.

The Javan rhinoceros is the rarest species of the five and is placed on the World Conservation Agency's Red List (IUCN) as one level below extinction.

The four other rhino types are the Sumatran rhino from Indonesia, the Indian rhino, the white rhino from Africa, and the black rhino from Africa.

The population of Javan rhinos was estimated to be around 75 as of August 2021, an increase as compared to the numbers recorded in the past years. During the 1999-2005 period, the Rhino Monitoring and Protection Unit (RMPU) stated that their population was estimated at 40-50.

Despite a relatively good growth rate recorded in the current population of the Javan rhinoceros, more efforts should be expedited through an action plan to ensure survival of the Javan rhino population in the Ujung Kulon National Park.

Andries Hoogerwerf, a naturalist and conservationist from the Netherlands, wrote in the book "Udjung Kulon: The Land of the Last Javan Rhinoceros," that the Javan rhino population had increased since 1937, although inventory and census activities were only conducted routinely in 1967.

The distribution of Javan rhinos in the national park is more concentrated in the southern part of the Ujung Kulon Peninsula, such as in Cibandawoh, Cikeusik, Citadahan, and Cibunar, all of which have characteristics of lowland topography, with tropical rain forests and abundant water sources.

Population distribution at the Ujung Kulon National Park is in accordance with the analysis of the Javan Rhino Monitoring team (MBJ) at the Ujung Kulon National Park, which determined the data from the footprints on the ground and trail cam footage.

Morphology

In the Indonesian Rhino Conservation Technic book published by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF-Indonesia), the Javan rhinoceros is a large mammal, with posture akin to an ancient animal, with a height to shoulder size of 128 to 175 cm; body length from the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail, 392 cm; and body weight reaching 1,600 to 2,280 kg.

Their skin is very thick, about 25-30 mm. They have skin folds from the bottom of the neck to the top, adjacent to the shoulders. The shape of the top crease of the back looks like a saddle, including the crease near the base of the tail and the top of the hind legs.

Male rhinos have one horn that can grow up to 27 cm and are usually dark gray or black in color, while female rhinos have none.

The Javan rhinoceros is almost similar to the Indian rhino, which only has one horn but is larger in size. Since they only have one horn, Marco Polo, an Italian explorer, called them Unicorn.

In a scientific study published by the Bogor Agricultural University (IPB) titled "The Use of Habitat Space by the Javan Rhino," the average width of the Javan rhino foot is 27-28 cm. The size of these footprints becomes a reference for the National Park Service Center to identify the age of the Javan rhino.

"The age of the rhino must be further identified by the national park team. However, (the foot width) can be our guide to estimate whether the rhino is still a child, teenager, or adult," Mita Sutisna, a freelance member of the Javan Rhino Monitoring at the Ujung Kulon National Park Agency, stated.

Behavior

Most of the Javan rhinos are solitary creatures, except during the mating season and child rearing. During the breeding period, they form small groups comprising two Javan rhinos, though sometimes, it is three, coupled with the child.

The Javan rhinoceros' mating month is around August. However, research on the Javan rhinoceros' mating period was still minimal due to very limited information and research, so experts use the Indian rhino as a guide to interpret behaviors of the Javan rhino.

Both the male and female Javan rhinos have their own roaming ranges of 10-20 km per day. Within the home range, rhino trails are found, both permanent and non-permanent.

Each path has its own function, usually being a connecting route to rumpang (a place to eat), dipping in mud, bathing, and resting. Although the Javan rhinoceros is often active in the morning, afternoon, and evening, they are occasionally found active during the day.

The Javan rhino has a penchant to dip in mud. Apart from the need to maintain their body temperature, they also like to dip in mud to avoid parasites and mosquitoes from latching onto their bodies. They also like to rest in the puddles. Rhinos need to slather mud on their bodies in order to absorb heat.

Usually, the puddles they dip into were formerly used by wild boars. After being abandoned and no longer being used by the wild boars, the Javan rhino takes over the puddle by trampling on it to increase its dimension. The size of the Javan rhinoceros' puddle is about 7x5 meters, with a depth of 50-125 cm.

They need plenty of water to bathe and clear off mud on their skin. Thus, the rhino's skin will be healthy and be void of cracks that could spread infection of disease.

"During the rainy season, rhinos rarely bathe in rivers, as water in the forest cover is abundant. Rhinos are only seen crossing from one area to another through rivers, so they do not bathe," Sutisna remarked.

The remaining rhinos

Not even one zoo in the world has a collection of Javan rhinos. Currently, their population is concentrated only in Ujung Kulon and nowhere else.

Their population used to be spread in Java's mountains. It was recorded that they had lived in Southeast Asia, China, up to India.

In 2010, the last wild rhino in Vietnam was shot dead by poachers. The rhino in Vietnam is believed to be the last Javan rhino subspecies in mainland Asia. In 1989, reports were received of a small population of Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam. In 1993, it was estimated that there were eight to 12 Javan rhinos, but they slowly disappeared, one at a time.

According to the Ujung Kulon National Park's records, in the 1700s, the Javan rhinos inhabited several lowland mountainous areas in Java Island. There were many of them, so much so that the colonial government had even called them pests since they damaged agriculture and plantations.

The Dutch government then conducted a competition by rewarding anyone, who was able to kill rhinos. In a short span of time, hundreds of rhinos lost their lives to guns and snares.

Professor of the Bogor Agriculture University at the Department of Forest Resources Conservation and Ecotourism, Faculty of Forestry and Environment, Prof. Harini Muntasib, stated that hunting spelt doom for the Javan rhino populations. In addition to being considered pests, hunters also sought their horns.

Threats from humans caused the Javan rhinos to escape to deeper part of the forests until finally all that was left of their population was in Ujung Kulon. The past existence of rhinos in Java is marked by the insertion of their images in the naming of directions or places.

"Everything with the name Cibadak used to have a rhinoceros. (According) to the records (of the area that) I mapped, the farthest was the Ngawen area. After searching, Ngawen is located around Klaten. Is Ngawen Ngawi? Dutch researchers might write a different name, so about as far as Central Java until East Java, it is there," Harini stated.

Perhaps, the people of Bandung are familiar with the Cibadak Street, Rancabadak Hospital that is now Hasan Sadikin Hospital, and the white rhino statue at the Bandung City Hall Park. The white rhino statue was officiated in 1981 by former Bandung Mayor, Husen Wangsaatmadja.

The white rhino monument in the City Hall yard does not serve as a regional symbol, but rather, an icon of Bandung City's longing for an orderly, healthy natural preservation, without any shortage of water and shady trees. 

Related news: Ujungkulon Park records increase in Javanese rhino population
Related news: Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in East Aceh to protect endangered species

 

Comments