Leuser Ecosystem Archives - Rhino Review

Poaching in Indonesia’s biodiverse Leuser Ecosystem on the rise amid COVID-19

By Antipoaching, Conservation
Junaidi Hanafiah, Mongabay | May 28, 2020

Read the original story here.

BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA: Wildlife poaching is on the rise in a key Sumatran habitat that’s home to some of the rarest species on Earth. But hunters in the Leuser Ecosystem appear to be targeting animals for food, rather than the area’s prized tigers, rhinos or orangutans, according to conservationists.

“Our teams have found a lot of deer snares, and these aren’t set up by professional hunters,” said Dedi Yansyah, wildlife protection coordinator at the Leuser Conservation Forum, an NGO.

“We think those snares were set up by people whose activities have been disrupted by the corona,” he added, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Noviar Andayani, country director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), agreed, saying in a webinar last month that her own organization’s patrol teams had reported an increase in poaching activities amid the pandemic. She attributed this to economic losses suffered by communities living in the area as a result of shutdowns imposed in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

A forest ranger shows a wire snare found inside a national park in Sumatra. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Local authorities working with conservation groups manage 26 patrol teams to protect the Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia’s Aceh province. The protected area spans 23,000 square kilometers (8,880 square miles), more than double the size of Jamaica, and is the last place on Earth where the Sumatran rhino, tiger, elephant and orangutan coexist.

But rates of illegal poaching and logging there are estimated to be some of the worst in Indonesia. And local lockdown measures meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus have halted patrols, Dedi said.

“There are many challenges in protecting wildlife currently. Teams can’t be mobilized from one region to another,” he said.

Indonesia has shut down conservation areas for tourists to stem COVID-19 transmissions both among people and to wildlife such as orangutans. Many communities have also restricted access to their areas, and these local lockdowns have slammed the country’s tourism sector, including the small businesses relying on tourists who visit the parks.

With some 4 million people currently living in and around Leuser, the ecosystem is already under heavy human pressure. Species like rhinos that persist there do so in small, fragmented populations and remain highly sensitive to any human activity, Dedi said. “Rhinos are very different from other species that can live near human settlements. Rhinos need an environment that’s truly safe and sound away from human activities,” he said.

A guide feeds an orangutan as tourists watch in Mount Leuser National Park. Image by Aria Danaparamita for Mongabay.

Noviar of WCS called for more efforts by the authorities to beef up security across wildlife habitats like Leuser and an end to the wildlife trade. “Protect the wildlife in their natural and healthy habitat,” she said.

Banner image of a Sumatran rhino captured by camera trap in Mount Leuser National Park, courtesy of the park agency.

Indonesian officials wield sharia law in defense of Sumatran rhinos

By Antipoaching, Law & legislation
Junaidi Hanafiah & Rahmadi Rahmad, Mongabay | January 10, 2020

See link for photos & map.

EAST LAMPUNG, INDONESIA: The government of the Indonesian province of Aceh, notorious for public canings carried out under sharia law, plans to put that same strict Islamic jurisprudence to work protecting what’s thought to be the last viable population of wild Sumatran rhinos on Earth.

Authorities have submitted to the provincial legislature a draft Islamic bylaw, known as a Qanun Jinayat, that prescribes penalties — in addition to those provided for in national law — for anyone convicted of hunting, killing or trading in protected species, including the critically endangered Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis). According to Aceh government officials, the qanun also carries penalties for anyone convicted of damage wildlife habitats in the province.

Original photo as published by Mongabay.com.

Violators would face not just jail terms of up to five years and fines of up to Rp 100 million ($7,300), as prescribed under national laws, but also up to 100 lashes of the cane if the qanun is implemented.

The draft bylaw is expected to boost protections for rhinos in Aceh’s Leuser Ecosystem, one of the last great intact swaths of tropical rainforest left in Sumatra, and home to the largest population of the near-extinct Sumatran rhinos. It’s also the last place on Earth where critically endangered rhinos, tigers, orangutans and elephants still co-exist.

Conservationists estimate the total population of Sumatran rhinos at between 30 and 80. At least 12 individual rhinos have been identified in the Leuser Ecosystem through recent camera-trap surveys, and official estimates put the area’s total rhino population as high as 50, split up into six subpopulations.

However, the mountainous region has a chronic wildlife poaching problem and remains poorly surveyed by conservationists.

“We’re also having deliberations on another draft qanun that will become a guide for environmental management based on the ecosystem’s carrying capacity for the next 30 years,” Malik Mahmud Al-Haytar, Aceh’s customary leader, told Mongabay Indonesia in a recent interview.

Aceh authorities also plan to establish six zones outside protected forests that will serve as sanctuaries for protected species. “The main purpose is to reduce conflicts between wildlife and humans,” said Muhammad Daud, the head of conservation at Aceh’s environmental department.

The bylaws are being considered just as Aceh prepares to host the national government’s third Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, aimed at the captive breeding of wild-caught rhinos.

“There must be an SRS built in Aceh. The province still has a large forest area and is suitable for action to rescue the Sumatran rhino from extinction,” Malik said. “This is very important because the Sumatran rhino population is so small.”

An environment ministry official said the new facility, in East Aceh district, will span about 100 hectares (250 acres), the same size as the country’s first SRS at Way Kambas National Park in southern Sumatra when it opened in 1996. That facility, which was greatly expanded last year, is home to seven rhinos, two of which were conceived and born there; a second SRS, in Indonesian Borneo, is home to a solitary wild-caught female rhino.

Conservationists plan to similarly capture wild rhinos from small population pockets in Aceh and relocate them to the semi-wild habitat of the planned new SRS inside the Leuser landscape. The main threat to the species is the fragmentation of the wild population, which means less opportunity for individual rhinos to encounter each other and mate. That’s led to the natural birth rate dropping well below the replacement level to sustain the species. With the network of SRS facilities, conservationists hope to address this problem through captive breeding.

Dedi Yansyah, coordinator for wildlife protection at the NGO Leuser Conservation Forum (FKL), said each of the small subpopulations in Aceh — comprising five 5 to 10 individuals — was isolated. “In some of the subpopulations in Leuser, there’s been no indication of a rhino calf,” he said.

“Besides protecting them, rescuing the individuals in these small pockets must be done to prevent the species from going extinct,” he said.

Aceh, a semi-autonomous province in Indonesia that’s the only one allowed to implement sharia law in the otherwise secular republic, has drawn criticism for its qanuns regulating private conduct. Hundreds of people have been caned in public for victimless crimes such as gambling and intermingling with a non-related member of the opposite sex. In 2017, authorities for the first time caned two men convicted of having same-sex relations. Homosexuality is not illegal under Indonesian law, but Aceh’s special autonomy allows it to implement qanuns that may conflict with national laws.


Sumatra survey looks to identify at-risk rhinos for captive breeding (Indonesia)

By Conservation
Junaidi Hanafiah, Mongabay | October 7, 2019

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As Indonesia prepares to launch a new captive-breeding facility for Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in the northern province of Aceh, authorities and conservationists are intensifying efforts to survey and protect the province’s remaining wild rhinos.

Authorities say they believe that the Leuser Ecosystem, which spans 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) in Aceh and North Sumatra provinces, could be home to as many as 50 Sumatran rhinos. No more than 80 Sumatran rhinos are estimated to survive in the wild, scattered in small populations across Sumatra and Borneo.

In Aceh, conservation groups are working with government agencies including the Mount Leuser National Park Center, the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency, the Aceh Environmental and Forestry Service and the Forest Management Unit (KPH) to mobilize 26 patrol teams to monitor the rhino population in the Leuser Ecosystem.

Original photo as published by Mongabay

“The team goes around every month,” said Dedi Yansyah, wildlife protection coordinator for the Leuser Conservation Forum, one of the NGOs working to mobilize patrols.

They found that the Leuser rhino population is dispersed into small groups living in isolation from each other, which could further endanger their survival and breeding.

“In some places in Leuser, there is no indication of rhino presence. This could be due to the absence of male or female rhinos, or because of diseases that prevent them from breeding,” Dedi said. He added that the Leuser ecosystem is an ideal natural habitat for the Sumatran rhino, “as long as it’s safe from hunting and the habitat isn’t damaged.” Both factors currently threaten the Leuser’s rhinos. Sumatran rhino horns have been found on the black market in northern Sumatra in recent years, and rhinos are also at risk of injury from snares set for other animals. Forest clearing also remains a major issue in the ecosystem, particularly for palm oil and other types of agriculture.

Captive Breeding

Authorities and conservation groups have been working to monitor isolated rhinos with the aim of eventually integrating the animals into a planned sanctuary in Aceh where they can take part in a captive-breeding program.

While poaching and habitat fragmentation have driven the species to the brink of extinction, the greatest threat currently facing the species is a low birth rate. With many of the surviving individuals isolated from other members of their species, experts fear that the population will dwindle as rhinos die of natural causes without ever reproducing.

As a result, conservation efforts are currently focused on bringing isolated rhinos together to breed. Seven rhinos are currently cared for at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Sumatra’s Way Kambas National Park, including two calves bred and born at the sanctuary. A recently captured female is held at a newly established SRS in Indonesian Borneo, and plans are underway to establish a third SRS somewhere in the Leuser Ecosystem.

“The Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Aceh is in the process of permission and location determination,” Dedi said. “The target is to operate in 2021. The individual rhinos will be placed in the SRS, and their offspring will be released into the wild — of course with consideration that the individual is ready and its habitat is safe.”

The team has identified 14 suitable potential sites, and is awaiting approval from the environment ministry before making a final selection.

National Mandate, Local Support

In 2018, the Minister of Environment and Forestry released a directive to unite the Sumatran rhino populations from the Leuser Ecosystem Area and the Mount Leuser National Park into one habitat of more than 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres).

The rhino action plan calls for sub-populations with at least 10 to 15 individuals, and therefore large enough to breed on their own, to be protected in place, said Sapto Aji Prabowo, head of the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency

“According to expert opinion, the fragmented rhino populations must be collected in one place so that they can breed. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry, through the Directorate General of Nature Resources and Ecosystem Conservation, has decided that,” Sapto said.

“The integration of small populations is important to help with breeding, so that when the offspring are born they can be returned to their natural habitat,” he said. “An SRS in Aceh is important because based on research there are pockets that are not able to breed, so the population is very small. But building an SRS must also be done very carefully and must be supported by all parties, starting from the site level to the central government.”

The plan now has the support of the local government. The head of East Aceh district, Hasballah M. Thaib, said he hopes the SRS will soon be realized.

“East Aceh district is willing to provide a place for SRS development. We want the presence of the SRS to not only have an impact on rhino rescue but also increase public awareness and all parties to protect the forest and all its inhabitants,” he said.