Conservation in the Spotlight: Asian Rhino Foundation

July 2010

**This article originally appeared on zoocrew.eu as part of our Conservation Awareness project. **

The Asian Rhino Foundation was founded in April 2006 by Maaike Leenen and Jeroen Rijnierse, students of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. This was largely because of Maaike’s close relationship with Rosa, a Sumatran rhino she had monitored during her three months thesis-research in the Sumatran jungle. No other organization in the Netherlands, or elsewhere on the European mainland, had a foundation focusing on the Asian rhino species and the local community.

The first project supported by the Foundation was Maaike’s research of Rosa during her study on “Forest and Nature conservation”: the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.

Presently, the Foundation also supports Ujong Kulon National Park. Here Remco van Merm, another board member of the Foundation, researched the Javan Rhino.

Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary

The Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is the most threatened of the five rhino species in the world. It is estimated that about 250 individuals are left, in small fragmented populations in Indonesia and Malaysia. The population is threatened due to poaching and habitat loss. In the early 1990’s a managed breeding centre was set up in Way Kambas National Park on Sumatra: the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS). It is here that a native habitat was developed to which some captive rhino’s were repatriated. In 1998 they received their first rhino. Now the sanctuary is home to five rhinos: two males (Andalas and Torgamba) and three females (Ratu, Bina and Rosa). They take part in an intensively managed research and breeding program aimed at increasing the Sumatran rhino population in the wild.

The main goal of SRS is to maintain a small population of Sumatran rhinos for research, insurance and awareness-building purposes. While, over a longer period, developing a successful breeding program that can produce new animals to help ensure the survival of this Critically Endangered species in the wild.

Breeding Sumatran rhinos in captivity is not easy. After a long period of researching how to breed Sumatran rhinos, Andalas was born in 2000 in the Cincinnati Zoo (USA); this was the first Sumatran rhino bred and born in a zoo in more than 112 years. Two other calves followed. Now Andalas is brought to SRS and is the futures hope to a successful breeding program in SRS. Unfortunately, Andalas’ mother died in Cincinnati Zoo in 2010.

At SRS the rhinos each have a large open, but fenced-around, area (about 10 hectares), where they can experience a natural rain forest habitat. Meanwhile they still receive veterinary care and food. The area is too small to get enough food naturally (in the wild they walk many kilometers to find their food).

In the center of the area there is a meeting point, where a male and female rhino can have an arranged meeting with each other when it is the right time of the sexual period of the female. At other times the rhinos live solitarily. In this way they try to have some success in breeding Sumatran rhinos. SRS also serves as a center for community outreach and education programs, as well as a centerpiece for conservation tourism that could eventually generate income for rhino conservation in Indonesia. It is very important that local people know about the Sumatran rhinos and the habitat of the animals. Without help of the local people conservation is nearly impossible.

By living in SRS, the Sumatran rhinos – Bina, Torgamba, Andalas, Ratu and Rosa – not only contribute to the conservation of the species, they also serve as ambassadors for their congeners in the wild.
(source: http://www.rhinos-irf.org)

Ujung Kulon National Park

Living in Ujung Kulon National Park, on the western tip of Java, are 35-50 individuals of the rarest rhino in the world: the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus sondaicus). In Vietnam, there are only 1-5 individuals of one of the two subspecies of the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamaticus). Although its population is lower than the Sumatran rhino, the Javan rhino is considered in a stronger position since the majority of the population is protected in a National Park in Java, thus allowing the species to maintain numbers.

Javan rhino originally lived in both lowland tropical rainforest and along watercourses in more lowland areas. Nowadays they only live in the rainforest. In the rainforest it is a pure browser, but it is expected that the Javan rhino both browsed and ate grass, or in other words was a mixed feeder.

The rhinos of Ujung Kulon live on a peninsula of 39.120 hectares. The living circumstances are not completely ideal for the Javan rhino. Due to the explosion of the Krakatau Volcano in 1883, the vegetation is seriously disturbed. The forest is still recovering and one palm species is enlarging, which stops the growth of rhino food plants. Active forest management is very important. A possible new outbreak of the Krakatau Volcano is also one of the threats for these animals, as an erruption can fade away the entire population.

Secondly, there is only room to accommodate a population of 70 rhinos. Moving some of the rhinos in Ujung Kulon to another protected area for developing a new healthy population is therefore essential.

The continuation of protection, combined with establishing a second population in Indonesia or combining them with the small population in Vietnam provides the best possible hope for the species survival.

How we support these projects

We have direct contacts with the project managers in Indonesia; each year we ask what they need for the rhino protection, and then we are able to decide on our contribution.

To raise money for the donation we sell merchandise during events, we have some donors and receive some gifts. We also have an adoption program, in which you can adopt one of the five rhinos in SRS, or you can adopt a piece of land at SRS when visiting us at one of the events.

Do you want more information about rhinos, the Foundation, or are you interested in doing some volunteer work for us?
You can find us on the internet at www.asianrhino.nl or basic information in English at www.asianrhino.nl/English/Home.htm.

You can contact us by sending an email to info@asianrhino.nl. Of course you are also very welcome to support us by donating money.

This article has been provided by: Asian Rhino Foundation (www.asianrhino.nl)

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