Greedy poachers, consumers put Sumatran rhinos on the line
The Jakarta Post
The population of Sumatran rhinoceroses in Indonesia has received another major threat from the arrival of foreign poachers who illegally hunt the critically endangered species for its highly valuable horns, a conservation organization has claimed.
Speaking at a seminar in Medan recently, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia researcher Wulan Pusparini said overseas hunters had covertly flocked to the country in search of the two-horned Sumatran rhinoceros to meet the high demand for rhino horns in the international market.
Most of the poachers, according to Wulan, came from Vietnam and had significant experience in hunting African rhinoceroses in their natural habitat.
'The price of African rhino horn currently stands at around Rp 15 million [US$1,021] per gram. The horns of Sumatran rhinos, meanwhile, are sold at far higher prices as they have much better quality than those of African rhinos,' she said.
Wulan said the demand for Sumatran rhino horn was virtually nonexistent in the domestic market but extremely high in Vietnam and China, where people believe in the efficacy of the product as traditional medicine.
'This [Sumatran rhino horn] has become a valuable product in the international market,' she said.
Based in New York, the WCS is an international conservation organization currently working in more than 60 countries, including Indonesia, home to the world's two most endangered rhino species ' the Javan rhinoceros and Sumatran rhinoceros.
The two species are on the brink of extinction mainly due to illegal hunting for their horns, which are used to produce high-priced commodities, like medicine, jewelry and souvenirs.
Unlike the single-horned Javan rhinoceros, Sumatran rhinoceros have two horns, with the bigger one able to grow to 79 centimeters while the smaller one can reach 10 cm.
Switzerland-based environmental organization the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has also listed the Sumatran rhinoceros as a critically endangered species since 1996.
The IUCN estimates that the total population of the species currently ranges between 220 and 275 individuals worldwide. The species has also been declared regionally extinct in several countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, India and Vietnam.
In Indonesia, according to Wulan, the number of Sumatran rhinoceros has significantly dropped from some 10,000 in the early 19th century to only 100 at present, with a significant number of them spotted in Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL) in northern Sumatra.
'The Sumatran rhino is now believed to be extinct in Kerinci Seblat National Park [in Sumatra] although there were some 20 of them spotted nine years ago,' Wulan said.
TNGL's technical conservation unit head Kuswandono said the park's management had stepped up measures to protect the population of Sumatran rhinoceros and other endangered animals in its area from illegal hunting.
'We will intensify patrols and fully enforce the law on anyone who intends to hunt the Sumatran rhinoceros in our park,' he said.
Environmentalist Rudi Putra of the NGO Leuser Conservation Forum, meanwhile, suggested that the decline in the population of Sumatran rhinoceroses must also be attributed to the government's asynchronous development and environmental policies.
'On the one hand, the government wants to protect the Sumatran rhinoceros, but on the other hand it builds roads that penetrate vital conservation areas. By doing this, the government has unconsciously given access to illegal hunters to slaughter Sumatran rhinoceroses,' he said.
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