Indonesia gangs poached 26 rare Javan rhinos since 2018: police

Indonesia gangs poached 26 rare Javan rhinos since 2018: police
This handout still image taken from video footage on May 22, 2020 and released by the Environment and Forestry Ministry on September 20, 2020 shows a male Javan rhinoceros calf named Luther (L) in Ujung Kulon national park in Indonesia’s Banten province. Two extremely rare Javan rhinoceros calves have been spotted in an Indonesian national park, boosting hopes for the future of one of the world's most endangered mammals. The rhino calves -- a female named Helen and male called Luther -- were seen with their mothers in footage taken from nearly 100 camera traps installed in Ujung Kulon national park between March and August. (AFP / ENVIRONMENT AND FORESTRY MINISTRY)


Indonesian police said Tuesday that suspected poaching gangs had killed 26 rare Javan rhinos since 2018, in a case that has shone a light on the existential threat facing one of the world's most endangered mammals.


The rhinoceros endemic to Indonesia's most populous island is critically endangered, with authorities believing there are only around 82 remaining in Ujung Kulon National Park in western Java.


Police paraded five suspected poachers and their confiscated firearms at a press conference Tuesday, after saying last week they were investigating claims by an arrested poacher that his gang had killed dozens of rhinos.


Two groups were behind the killings, according to Yudhis Wibisana, the director of criminal investigation in Java's Banten province.


One "admitted that 22 animals had been killed and their horns sold" while another "admitted four animals had been killed," Yudhis told reporters Tuesday.


The horns were sold on to China, he said, declining to reveal the value each would fetch.


A total of eight suspected poachers from the two groups were still on the run, he said.


Banten police chief Abdul Karim said in a separate statement Tuesday that 14 suspects had been named in connection with the killing of "around 26 rhinos".


Security beefed up

Last week, an Indonesian court sentenced ringleader of one of the poaching groups to 12 years in prison after he was found guilty of killing at least six Javan rhinos between 2019 and 2023 in the national park.


Ardi Andono, the head of Ujung Kulon National Park, said security would be beefed up at the national park, which is a UNESCO heritage site.


"The Ujung Kulon National Park has declared a full protection system for a 35,000-hectare peninsula," he said.


Staff were carrying out 24-hour patrols on land and water, increasing patrol teams from four to seven and using a thermal drone and cameras to monitor any intruders, he said.


Javan rhinos have folds of loose skin giving them the appearance of wearing armour plating.


They once numbered in the thousands across Southeast Asia, but have been hard hit by rampant poaching and human encroachment on their habitats.


Local NGOs have cast doubt on the Indonesian government's numbers.


In 2018, there were only around 63 sightings of Javan rhinos in the national park, according to Indonesian conservation group Auriga Nusantara.