Our worst fears realised: Javan rhinos poached in Ujung Kulon National Park

Javan rhino swimming in water

Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry. 

Our worst fears have been realised: Indonesian media and Mongabay have reported that 10% of the Javan rhino population has been illegally killed in Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP) between 2019 and 2023. Details of the incidents have been recorded in recent public court documents released during the ongoing trial of an individual alleged to be involved.

The killing of a rhino of any species is a tragic loss. However, with fewer than 80 individuals left on Earth, the news that wildlife trafficking networks have turned their attention to Javan rhinos is particularly disturbing.

Since the report of a suspected rhino poaching in July 2023, we have been monitoring the situation in UKNP particularly closely. In November 2023, an Indonesian individual was arrested and, according to court documents, is being charged with the theft of four camera traps, illegal killing of Javan rhinos and the possession of illegal firearms. Court documents reveal that he has testified to killing rhinos between 2019 and 2023 as well as the subsequent trafficking of rhino horns, allegedly in collaboration with three other individuals. So far, the three accomplices have evaded arrest. However, in recent weeks, two further individuals are reported to have been arrested for their involvement in crimes relating to the trafficking of these rhino horns.

Javan rhinos were once found across much of Southeast Asia. Following decades of unsustainable hunting and habitat loss, the species has become restricted solely to Ujung Kulon since 2010, when the last Vietnamese Javan rhino was illegally killed in Cat Tien National Park. With so few Javan rhinos remaining, the news that a single gang has poached at least 10% of the world’s Javan rhino population in four years is a very grave development.

In response to the recent crimes, Park authorities have increased their security efforts, which have so far reduced incursions. However, the fact that wildlife crime networks are actively targeting Javan rhinos in UKNP poses a real threat of extinction for this species. It is critical that investigations into these incidents do not stop at the poaching gangs around the Park but continue to analyse the illicit trade routes of the horns and full chain of those perpetrating illegal activities. At the same time, efforts to prevent such crimes in the future are required through work to support, empower and meaningfully engage communities living on the Park’s periphery.

There are still many questions to answer on this case and urgent action needed to support the future of Javan rhinos. At Save the Rhino, through our partnership with the International Rhino Foundation, we are continuing to support the Government of Indonesia’s efforts to conserve and protect the world’s remaining Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon.

Thankfully, despite these very concerning losses, there is a glimmer of hope. The UKNP rhino population has continued to breed successfully, and we were delighted to share the Government of Indonesia’s recent announcement of a new calf first recorded in March 2024.

We will keep you updated as the situation develops. Thank you.

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