Smile, you're on endangered-species camera.
The world's last 35 Javan rhinoceroses (Rhinoceros sondaicus) are a little bit safer this week as 120 new camera traps have been installed in Ujung Kulon National Park, located on the western corner of the island of Java, in Indonesia. The new video cameras were donated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF). They join 40 cameras that were already in use. The park is the only habitat for this critically endangered species. There are no Javan rhinos in captivity.
Javan rhinos, like all rhino species, have been heavily poached for their horns, which are valued in traditional Asian medicine, despite the fact that they have no actual medical value. The Javan rhinoceros subspecies previously found in Vietnam (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) was declared extinct in October 2011 after the last individual was poached in 2010. Populations on Java have been stable for a few years, thanks to intense conservation efforts and armed guards that have helped keep poachers out of the park since 1998. "Additional video traps are believed to provide an important step for ensuring the survival of existing Javan rhinos," IRF Director Susie Ellis said in a prepared statement from WWF.
"With the total of 160 video camera traps placed simultaneously around the park, we can collect various information, not only on Javan rhino but also other wildlife," according to Moh. Haryono, head of Ujung Kulon National Park Office, who said in the WWF statement that the cameras will help achieve Indonesia's goals of increasing the rhino population 3 percent by 2014. Haryono told the Jakarta Post that the cameras can also monitor human activities in the park, allowing quick response by officials if anyone tries to harm the rhinos.
Adhi Hariyadi, coordinator of WWF Indonesia's Rhino Conservation Program, said the footage from the camera traps will be used in conjunction with DNA monitoring from scat and other samples to help develop a better understanding of Javan rhino behavior and population.
The announcement about the 120 new cameras was quickly followed by the release of new video footage, shot in 2011, which shows that five of the 35 rhinos in the park are juveniles.
The footage was released by Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a multibillion-dollar company that has been heavily criticized for its role in destroying the native forests of Indonesia to make way for commercial pulp plantations. APP has pledged $300,000 over five years to support a public-private partnership called the Javan Rhino Conservation Working Group (CWG), which formed last year to support the Indonesian government's rhino conservation action plan.
In an APP press release, Haryono, who is also chairman of the CWG, said, "The video we are distributing worldwide today shows that the battle to save the Javan rhino from extinction is not lost. There is a small but thriving community of rhinos within the national park which can grow if the conditions are right."
Of course, the presence of juvenile Javan rhinos in the park is not news. WWF and Indonesia's National Park Authority released footage of two adult rhinos and their calves in February 2011.
APP gives itself a lot of credit for the health of the rhino population, but others accuse the company of trying to greenwash its record. "APP has a well-documented track record of intentionally misleading consumers and investors with massive PR campaigns to mask the truth behind its clear-cutting operations in Indonesia," says Rhishja Cota-Larson, founder of Saving Rhinos, LLC.
The CWG says its goal is to increase the Javan rhino population to 75 animals in five years. I can't discount that this is a lofty—if perhaps overambitious—goal or that the CWG is comprised of people who want to help the rhinos. But when APP's press release says this five-year plan is "on track" and that the species is "flourishing," it seems more like PR-speak than reality.
Photo courtesy of WWF