Special anti-poaching units in Sumatra's beleaguered Bukit Barisan National Park are making a dramatic difference: zero rhinos killed and poachers, rather than rhinos, snared.
Urgent funding from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) beginning in January has enabled the Indonesian Rhino Conservation Program to expand and intensify the patrols now achieving these results in one of the most challenging landscapes to protect. The park has suffered massive encroachment along its long borders, where poachers have found the critically endangered Sumatran rhino an easy target.
"This is a project that has been very successful and demonstrates how it is possible to involve local communities in protection," said Nico van Strien of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), which provides technical assistance to the program in Sumatra.
The CEPF grant supports eight patrols working to create Intensive Protection Zones for rhino in the park. Each team is generally made up of three local community recruits and one forest ranger, licensed to carry a firearm and to arrest poaching suspects.
The patrols operate against a backdrop of special intelligence work, gathering evidence to build successful cases against those who threaten rhinos, tigers and other wildlife in the park's important rhino areas.
The Sumatran Rhino is the most imperiled species of rhino. Numbers have been halved from an estimated 600 in 1994 to probably no more than 300 today. Of that total world population, possibly more than 60 are in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. Poachers claimed two rhinos in the park in 2001.
Acting on intelligence from villagers, the Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) conduct frequent and intensive patrols, varying from three to seven days, to detect and destroy snares and traps left by poachers before they can harm the park's wildlife.
Catching and prosecuting poachers is a difficult business. The work that the RPUs conduct in the park's surrounding villages—gathering information and maintaining an ongoing presence—is vital to obtain leads on the location of traps and act as a deterrent to would-be poachers.
It pays off. This year, the patrols' work has helped lead to the arrest and prosecution of 11 people involved in nine cases of poaching. In two cases unprecedented severe sentences of 3 and 3.5 years imprisonment were imposed.
These cases, community support, adequate resources and a highly visible patrol presence are a powerful mix. The future of the park's Sumatran rhino population, one of the largest remaining, may well depend on it.
Related article: Groups Intensify Anti-Poaching Patrols in Sumatra.