Poaching gangs claim to have killed one third of the remaining Javan rhino population

Javan rhino camera trap

As the trial of the original suspect charged with the illegal killing of seven Javan rhinos and associated illegal activities in Ujung Kulon National Park draws to a close, the arrests of six additional suspects last week brought to light some shocking claims.

Police have shared that a total of thirteen people have been arrested to date and those most recently arrested confessed to illegally killing up to 26 Javan rhinos since 2019. With so few Javan rhinos remaining, the news that potentially a third of the world’s total population have been killed in five years is a very grave development.

Our CEO, Dr Jo Shaw, shared her thoughts,

It’s devastating to learn that criminal gangs claim to have killed one-third of the entire remaining Javan rhino population, bringing the future of the species into jeopardy. Arrests of members of the poaching networks around Ujung Kulon National Park are a positive development, however, it is essential that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law and that agencies collaborate in investigating and dismantling the networks responsible for transporting the rhino horns onto the black market in China.”

Those arrested are allegedly members of two separate criminal gangs, suspected to have been illegally entering Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP) with the intent to find and kill rhinos. The species has been restricted to UKNP since 2010, when the last Vietnamese Javan rhino was illegally killed in Cat Tien National Park.

The trial of the first gang member who was arrested in November 2023 is still underway. Prosecutors have pushed for a five year custodial sentence (the maximum possible under current Indonesian wildlife crime policy), for his role in poaching seven Javan rhinos and stealing camera traps from UKNP. Of the 13 suspects arrested to date, eight are understood to be part of the same gang and five are members of another gang, with three further perpetrators still being sought. In addition, two individuals have been arrested for buying and potentially transporting rhino horn between the gangs and their buyers. Police have confirmed that these intermediaries had links to two Chinese nationals as potential buyers of the illegal rhino horn.

To protect the remaining Javan rhinos and their habitat, Park authorities closed access to UKNP last year and increased their security efforts with police and the military. So far, we understand that this has reduced illegal incursions.

However, the fact that wildlife crime networks have been actively targeting Javan rhinos in UKNP poses a real threat of extinction for this species. Investigations into these incidents must not stop at the poaching gangs around the Park, but also analyse the illicit trade routes being used and the full breadth of the criminal networks perpetrating illegal activities. At the same time, efforts to prevent such crimes through work to support, empower and meaningfully engage communities living on the Park’s periphery, are key.

Dr Shaw, continued,

Despite this very disturbing setback, we do have hope. We know that Javan rhinos are still breeding, with a new calf spotted earlier this year on a camera trap. One birth doesn’t make up for the rhinos lost, but it shows that with effective protection, we can enable the population growth that this species desperately needs.”

As an ongoing investigation, we expect regular news from Indonesian police on this story. We aim to keep you updated as often as we can. We continue to support the Rhino Protection Units and their vital work on the ground in UKNP. Thank you for your ongoing support.

 

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