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PAHU Rhinoceros Rescue in East Kalimantan’s West Kutai

  • Date:
    04 Dec 2018
  • Author:

With the Decree of the Director General of KSDAE Number SK. 93/KSDAE/SET/KSA.2/2/2018 dated 27 February 2018, the operation to capture the female Pahu rhino in Pocket 3 of West Kutai got underway. Following the completion of the necessary preparations, fieldwork activities got underway around April 2018.


At first, there was only one pit-trap set up where the Pahu rhino was moving. A pit-trap, which consists of a specifically made hole with safety boards in the walls, is a means of catching rhinos or other large creatures that is risk-free and non-lethal.


To ensure that rhinos or other huge mammals land safely if they fall into the hole, litter and leaves have been strewn at its bottom. The size of the hole is calculated based on the length, width, and height of the target animal. In theory, the pit-trap approach has been shown to be the safest method of capturing large wild animals based on the experience of capturing rhinos in Sumatra in the 1985–1990 period.


Pahu was eventually not found. The fishing team decided to add another pit-trap, bringing the total up to six. Along with setting pit traps, the rhino rescue team also used camera traps to track rhino movements during the capture procedure and patrolled the rhinos’ most remote area. Patrols are conducted since it is believed that hunting for consumption species like wild boar and deer is still going on. This is done to guarantee that the rhinos are still safe and are not disturbed by hunters and forest encroachers. This is due to the fact that this rhino habitat is located outside of a protected forest.


A main camp was also constructed as a hub for activities and a place for team members to secure access to the rhino habitat. Two times per day, in the morning and the evening, some team members were delegated to this central camp to serve as pit-trap monitors, checking to see if a rhino had entered the pit-trap. Throughout the months of April and November 2018, all of the aforementioned operations carried on as normal.


A Pahu rhino enters a pit-trap


The Pahu rhino was discovered to be in pit trap number 4, which is close to a tributary of the Tunuq river, as it was ultimately discovered on Sunday morning, November 25, 2018, around 7.30 WITA.


At 09.00 WITA, all rescue team members who are in the vicinity of Kubar or outside of Kubar are gathered, and they depart for the pit-trap area. The first task at hand is lifting the rhino from the pit-trap and placing it in a transit cage or boma (temporary enclosure with a minimum size of 44 m). According to the circumstances around the rhino, one of the two choices will be selected for the SOP. The veterinary team determined that the Pahu rhino could be placed in the transport cage after observing the rhino’s condition in the pit trap, which was relatively calm and free of agitation. From the area of the pit trap to the sanctuary, rhinos are transported in a cage called the rhino transport enclosure.


The SOP states that the rhino must be taken out of the pit trap before 24 hours have passed. The transportation of the rhinos from the pit trap to the transport cages, however, ran into quite a few difficulties due to weather conditions, the muddy roads from the main base camp to the pit trap location, and other factors. It took longer to load the rhinos into the transport cages because many of the transport vehicles became stopped on muddy roads. The Pahu rhinoceros was eventually successfully transferred to the transport cage on Monday, November 26, 2018.


The transportation of rhinos from bag 3 to the rhino sanctuary at PT HLKL has also been planned since it was revealed that the rhinos had entered the pit-trap. Given that a certain kind of vehicle, particularly a truck with a crane on top, was needed, the preparation of a vehicle capable of moving the rhinos from the pit-trap area also encountered its own challenges.

According to the plan, the coal mining firms PT TCM (Turbaindo Coal Mining) and PT Pama Persada Nusantara, which are present in Pocket 3, will provide assistance to this kind of vehicle. Getting the truck to the pit trap location, where the access road crosses many rivers with a bridge that is insufficient for this truck to pass, is the next challenge after getting the truck.
At the same time, PT TCM sent one bulldozer and one backhoe loader tractor to help level and strengthen the access road from the pit trap position to the mine road (which was already smooth and firm). Before vehicles hauling transport cages could pass, the entire 5.3 km access road from the pit trap to the main camp and the 21 km from the main camp to the mine road needed to be restored.


Rhino transport to the Kelian sanctuary (PT HLKL)


The transport cage carrying the Pahu rhino could only leave the pit trap location on November 27, 2018 at 16.50 WITA because the entire procedure of getting the transport cage ready for transit lasted more than 24 hours. Due to the limitations of multiple small bridges, the transport truck with the crane was unable to reach the pit trap position, so the transport cage was transported by a single cabin 4WD pick-up truck with a long bed.


The hardest journey is from the pit trap area to the main camp because many vehicles used to frequently get trapped in the mud on this access road in the past. However, this route is accessible to bulldozers and backhoes, allowing for the leveling and strengthening of the road so that it is no longer muddy and potentially dangerous for motorists. The crew carrying the transport cages arrived at the main camp around 18.30 WITA.


While resting Pahu, whose transport vehicle was quite rough even though the condition of the Pahu rhinoceros, according to the physicians, was still safe, the convoy of rhino transport vehicles completed the final preparations at the main base camp. The crew also had to stop frequently on the subsequent journey from the main camp to the mining road in order to give the rhinos a chance to relax and the veterinarians to assess the rhinos’ health.


The rhino transport cages had previously been transported from single-cab pickup trucks to trucks with cranes at a place close to the main camp. In order to ensure that there is enough water for bathing the rhinos, lowering their body temperatures, and washing the food, the crane truck has also given a tower (water tank). On the truck were also a veterinarian and three caregivers for rhinos. It takes roughly 5 hours to travel to the mine road.


The route then continues via the coal mining region to the PT TCM gate. Guards from the Police and the Department of Transportation were stationed at PT TCM’s entrance, ready to guide the procession to the sanctuary area through a public route. On November 28, 2018, the journey began at around 2:00 and ended in the Kelian sanctuary at 6.15. The journey went without a hitch, and the Pahu Rhino was found to be in good health.


At around 8:00 p.m., the Pahu Rhino was successfully transferred in good health from the Transport Cages to the Rawat Cages at the sanctuary location. Until the rhinos are ready to be placed in the boma cage, a team of national and international doctors, nurses, and veterinarians will continue to watch and oversee the rhinos. Three months of rhino monitoring will be completed before turning over to the management of the sanctuary.


Rescue Team for West Kutai Rhinos

According to the Decree of the Director General of KSDAE, the Sumatran Rhinoceros Rescue Team in West Kutai, East Kalimantan, is made up of specialists and conservationists made up of members of the Government, Partners, and rhino conservation groups. This team is made up of a health team, which includes veterinarians, rhino caregivers, and foragers, as well as a monitoring team, which includes employees who check pit traps, keep an eye on daily rhino movements, and prepare transport cages, bomba, and corridors.


Indonesian Rhino Joint Secretariat, WWF Indonesia Foundation, Tropical Forest Conservation Action (TFCA), Indonesian Rhino Foundation (YABI), Integrated Jungle Sustainable Alliance (ALeRT), Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB), PT. Kelian Lestari Protected Forest (HLKL), Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), Mulawarman University, and others are also supporting efforts to save the Sumatran rhinoceros in East Kalimantan. The medical team also had assistance from international vets from Malaysia, Australia, and Sweden in addition to Indonesia.


(Source: Konsorsium ALERT-IPB, TFCA Kalimantan)