Building leadership capacity in Indonesia
In addition to rhino, UKNP is also home to another endangered species, the Javan banteng. A rapid study on the current state of the habitat in UKNP using satellite images has shown marked changes in vegetation pattern.
Furthermore, there is a significant decline in grazing habitat for banteng in the Park as grazing areas are being transformed into dense forest due to regeneration of forests and fast spreading of the invasive Arenga palm (Arenga obtusifolia). Because of the decrease in traditional banteng grazing areas, the population is moving into even more direct competition with Javan rhinos, by beginning to browse in traditional rhino areas.
The invasion of Arenga palm in UKNP is problematic for a number of reasons. Where Arenga palm dominates, nothing else grows. Currently an estimated 60% (18,000 ha) of the peninsular section of the Park is covered with Arenga palm, precluding the growth of suitable rhino and banteng food. In order to increase rhino and banteng food plant availability, the Strategy and Action Plan for the Conservation of Rhinos in Indonesia recommends eradication trials of Arenga palm on a medium-sized scale to monitor rhino and banteng food plant development in these areas.
Javan rhinos require large amount of young growth, normally most abundant in places where the vegetation has been disturbed by natural forces or by man. A large part of their food is collected in places where new growth is within reach, for example, on forest edges, river banks, tree falls, landslides, regenerating forest and abandoned fields. There has been a lengthy discussion about the factors that could be the cause of the slow forest regeneration, and a number of research programmes are currently being undertaken into some factors that may have caused this serious condition. Nevertheless, it is clear that additional habitat is not available locally and that UKNP will never have a population large enough to secure the long-term survival of the species. The availability of resources like food can be manipulated by modifying the vegetation, and in particular, by eradicating the invasive Arenga palm.
All Javan rhino stakeholders are concerned that any level of “take”, be it from poaching or disease or other factors, will have a dramatic effect on the population and could drive the population into a much more unstable and more vulnerable situation. Therefore, it is crucial that rhinos in UKNP continue to be intensively and proactively protected by the RPUs. At the same time, it is critical that the change in habitat, which is one of the key causes of a lack of growth in the population, needs to be addressed with urgent habitat manipulation.
To increase rhino food plant availability, the International Rhino Foundation proposes to conduct eradication trials of Arenga palm on a medium-sized scale as an experiment to monitor rhino food plant development in these treated areas. Studies to date have shown that direct injections with the herbicide (glyphosate or “Round Up”) have effectively killed the palm without leaving chemical traces in the soil. As a next step, a larger area of Arenga palm will be controlled in order to study the succession with rhino food plants and measure effectiveness of this method of control in providing more rhino food plants. The active ingredient in the herbicide interacts with water to become a neutral salt and therefore does not contaminate the environment.
The overarching objective of the project is to conduct eradication trials to lead to an increased capacity to manage Arenga palm. The immediate objectives are to:
- halt the distributional increase of Arenga palm in Ujung Kulon National Park
- facilitate forest regeneration and re-establish natural feeding grounds commonly used by Javan rhinos
- assess food plant growth using vegetation analysis
- compare rhino habitat utilization before and after clearing the trial plots
This project will be part of a Master’s of Science undertaken by Mr Sectionov, who currently works as the Indonesia Liaison for the International Rhino Foundation. Mr Sectionov has conducted research and field conservation work with Javan rhinos for the past five years, primarily focusing on foraging competition among Javan rhinos and Javan banteng. He is a dedicated, passionate rhino conservationist, who we believe has the potential to become one of the country’s finest rhino conservationists and leaders, particularly if he is given the opportunity to receive an advanced degree abroad.
Mr Sectionov has applied for entry into the Masters of Science programme at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Dr Anne Goldizen, Associate Professor in the Behavioural Ecology Research Group has agreed to undertake supervision of Mr Sectionov on this project. The intention is for Mr Sectionov to complete a Master’s degree, followed by a Ph.D., which will allow him to be well-placed to take on a national and international leadership role in rhino conservation.
Grants / funding needed
The International Rhino Foundation is in the process of securing funding for this project and for Mr Sectionov’ s training, which will be funded through the IRF via an agreement with the University of Queensland. Private donors, who believe that this extraordinary young man is a rising star in Indonesia’s conservation community, have pledged £28,500 per year for four years for this work. Save the Rhino International has agreed to contribute £5,000 from its own core funds; while Blair Drummond Safari Park has also just donated £1,800, of which £900 will go to JRSCA and the remaining £900 to this building leadership capacity project.