Environment

In Way Kambas, saving
the Sumatran rhino

All in the family: Andatu (right) and his mother, Ratu, at the Suaka Rhino Sanctuary.
All in the family: Andatu (right) and his mother, Ratu, at the Suaka Rhino Sanctuary.

In Way Kambas National Park in East Lampung, a conservation center has sprung up to save the Sumatran rhino.

Sumadi, the manager of the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS), spoke fondly of Andatu, who was born on June 23, 2012.

The calf is only the fourth in the world — and the first in Asia — born in semi-in-situ captive breeding.

 “Andatu is in good health with a good appetite. Now he weighs 352 kilograms, almost the size of Ratu, his mother, who is over 500 kilograms,” Sumadi said at the inaugural Asian Rhino Range State Meeting in Bandar Lampung earlier this month.

The calf — who topped the scales at 25 kilograms at birth — was the focus of attention at the meeting of Asian and European specialists. In attendance were representatives of the major Asian nations with rhino populations: Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan was enthusiastic. “The birth of Andatu has opened the window of conservation for us all, because this is a very difficult undertaking due to the solitary nature of rhinos.”

Zulkifli said that semi-in-situ captive breeding for rhinos was possible — and Indonesia had proven it.

Occupying an area of 100 hectares of tropical forest in the 125,621 hectares of the national park, the sanctuary was established as part of the government’s Indonesian Rhino Conservation Strategy and Action Plan.  

 “Andatu” is a portmanteau of his parents’ names: Andalas, the father, who was born in the Cincinnati Zoo in USA in 2001 and has lived at the sanctuary since 2007; and Ratu, who was born and raised in Way Kambas.

It’s not easy to breed Sumatran rhinos in captivity, according to Indonesian Rhino Foundation Executive Director Widodo S. Ramono: Ratu had two miscarriages before delivering Andatu.

Bonny baby: Andatu, a 16-month-old Sumatran rhino calf currently tops the scales at 352 kilograms, up from 25 kilograms at birth.

Bonny baby: Andatu, a 16-month-old Sumatran rhino calf currently tops the scales at 352 kilograms, up from 25 kilograms at birth.

Watchful: Some species are hanging on by only a thread, with single populations numbering less than 50 animals.

Watchful: Some species are hanging on by only a thread, with single populations numbering less than 50 animals.

Endangered: Andatu stares at the camera. There are far fewer rhinos in Asia: only 3,500, versus 25,000 across Africa.

Endangered: Andatu stares at the camera. There are far fewer rhinos in Asia: only 3,500, versus 25,000 across Africa.


On hand during Ratu’s delivery were Benn Bryan from Australia’s Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Scott Citino from the White Oak Conservation Center and Paul Reinhart from the Cincinnati Zoo in the US, Susie Ellis from the International Rhino Foundation and Bibhab K. Talukdar from the Asian Rhino Specialist Group of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

 “The birth of Andatu has inspired Indonesia to become a Sumatran rhino conservation center,” Widodo said. “Experts have also agreed to undertake bull conservation at the same time through a semi-natural ex-situ breeding program.”

Widodo said that the state of the rhinos in Asia was critical, and that Sumatran, Javan and the greater one-horned rhino of India needed to be protected.

Christy Williams from the World Wildlife Fund’s Asian Rhino and Elephant Program said that while the international community had paid significant attention to the plight of the black rhinoceros and white rhinoceros in Africa, relatively little focus had been given to Asian species.

There are far fewer rhinos in Asia: only 3,500, versus 25,000 across Africa, as of March. Some species are hanging on by only a thread, with single populations numbering less than 50 animals.

However, there are proven examples of rhino populations bouncing back from the brink.

Committed action by governments has doubled the number of rhinos in West Bengal in India over the last 13 years, for example. Crackdowns on poachers have also given a boost to rhinos in Nepal and India.

After a lunch of bananas, Ratu and Andatu walked out of their cage to spend their time outdoors in the 100-hectare sanctuary, which is surrounded by an electrified fences that spans 4 kilometers.

The five rhinos at the sanctuary — Andatu, Ratu, Andalas, Rosa and Bina — get daily checkups to ward off common ailments such as tuberculosis, hepatitis and salmonella.

TLC: The five rhinos at the sanctuary get daily checkups to ward off common ailments such as tuberculosis, hepatitis and salmonella.

TLC: The five rhinos at the sanctuary get daily checkups to ward off common ailments such as tuberculosis, hepatitis and salmonella.


All-Indonesia Zoo Association secretary-general Tony Sumampau said that the sanctuary needed an additional stud rhino to meet a goal of a 3 percent population increase by 2020.

“The male rhino and Rosa will be mated so as to produce a generation unrelated to Andatu,” Tony, who is also director of the Indonesian Safari Park, said. “It’s also necessary to protect the Sumatran rhinos previously discovered in East Kalimantan.”

Also on the agenda for the specialists at the meeting was the establishment of teams to set up rhino sperm banks, among other things.

According to Tony, Kalimantan is also home to Sumatran rhinos, as per the research of Hermann Witkamp, a Dutch geologist. “Witkamp is recorded to have proposed the protection of a two-million-hectare zone as a roving rhino region, but after the big wildfire in 1982, everybody thought the rhinos were nowhere to be found.”

Tony has plans with the Forestry Ministry to create another sanctuary, this one for Javan rhinos, in Ujung Kulon, West Java. “This second habitat is meant to anticipate the dangers from an eruption of Mount Krakatau.”

According to the ministry, only 50 Javan rhinos currently live in Ujung Kulon, much less than the population of about a 100 Sumatran rhinos that lives near Mount Leuser, Way Kambas and Bukit Barisan Selatan.

Not all the news is good, however, Tony said that rhino poaching was on the upswing in South Africa, with the number of poached animals soaring from about 20 earlier in the decade to over 668 in 2012.

— Photos by JP/Indra Harsaputra

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