Videos to track every move of world’s rarest rhinos

Posted on 05 March 2009

34 video cameras will follow the Javan rhinos wherever they go, in an attempt to find out more about the world’s most endangered large mammal and help to prevent the species from going extinct.
Jakarta – 34 video cameras will follow the Javan rhinos wherever they go, in an attempt to find out more about the world’s most endangered large mammal and help to prevent the species from going extinct.

With fewer than 60 Javan rhinos left in the world, the camera footage is a useful tool to get to know more about how these single-horned animals use their habitat and thus help to protect them.

Cameras installed in Indonesia`s Ujung Kulon National Park, home to around 50 of the animals, have already helped to reveal some previously unknown behaviours of the rare mammal, which can weigh 2,300kg and measure over 3m in length.

Now 34 cameras have been installed in all areas known as the rhino’s habitat blocks on the southern tip of Java and record the large creatures 24 hours a day.

“The project is helping the most endangered large mammal species,” said Adhi Rachmat Hariyadi who leads WWF-Indonesia's project in Ujung Kulon National Park. “We’ve already recorded video of 9 individuals, including a mother and calf.”

The rhino, known for its shyness, has been in the limelight already in the past. One of the female Java rhinos made headlines across the world last year when she was captured wrecking one of the cameras, possibly out of fear that it may hurt her calves.

The project is run by WWF and the Ujung Kulon National Park.

Camera traps are fairly basic photographic equipment with infra red triggers which take a picture every time they sense movement in the forest. Extensive research is required to determine the best place to locate the camera, which is usually attached to a tree. Cameras are often located in remote and inaccessible parts of the forest where the creatures can be found.

Not enough calves

In locations like Ujung Kulon, a protective waterproof box is vital to ensure the camera can cope with the rain and humid conditions.

“Video serves as a positive tool to provide evidence on the urgency of saving this species", said Agus Priambudi, head of Ujung Kulon National Park. “It is important to be able to show the real condition of Javan rhinos to local and central governments.”

Of the 2 populations left, the Indonesian population in Ujung Kulon National Park has the better chance of survival since it is the only one that still has proof of breeding. But a healthy population should have several calves born each year. There has been no verifiable signs of Javan rhinos breeding in Cat Tien NP in Vietnam.

“We are concerned because we have not seen many very young calves for several years and worry that the population may be dependent on 2 or 3 breeding females,” Hariyadi said.

Conservationists want to identify another suitable site, where a second population could be established.

"This will help diffuse the danger of all the animals living in one place, which is risky because of the danger of catastrophic events like disease, eruptions from nearby volcanoes and other unforeseen disasters,” said Susie Ellis, Executive Director of the International Rhino Foundation.

To prevent the rhino population from going extinct, the Government of Indonesia launched the rhino conservation strategy in 2007 entitled “Rhino Century Project” (Proyek Abad Badak) in partnership with WWF, International Rhino Foundation (IRF), Asian Rhino Project (ARP), Yayasan Badak Indonesia (YABI), and US Fish and Wildlife Service, to create an additional Javan rhino population by translocating a few individuals from Ujung Kulon to another suitable site.

Young Javan rhino captured in a camera trap in Ujung Kulon, Indonesia. October 2006.
© WWF Indonesia
Javan rhino caught in photo trap.
Javan rhino caught in photo trap.
© WWF / Mike BALTZER