It was obviously not a good sign to get a call after midnight. Widodo Ramono, or Pak Wid, a prominent expert on rhino, received shocking news that Najaq, a recently rescued Sumatran rhino from devastated site in West Kalimantan, was in a comma.
I couldn’t imagine the rush or the panic to save the ten year old female Sumatran rhino that night. But, I would strongly assume it was intense as almost all international rhino experts, namely Australia Zoo, Tarongga Zoo-Australia, Cornell University-USA, were hands on deck adding the army of doctors from Indonesia’s ministry of environment and forestry (KLHK), Indonesia Safari Park (TSI), Indonesia Rhino Foundation (YABI), Bogor Agriculture Institute (IPB), and WWF – Indonesia.
Without leaving out details, Najaq was given antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicine before she died at least two hours later.
Preliminary cause of death had indicated that Najaq suffered from general infection (resulted from her left rear leg injury) and possible capture myopathy or shock disease.
“It is sad and shocking. We would have never suspected it. We thought she could make it,” said Pak Wid in his signature soft voice.
He was confident that Najaq, a name he had given for the rhino taken from the name of the river in the district, was gonna make it because she showed good eating habit, interacted well and excellent blood tests.
“That is the thing with rhinos. Dogs can express when they are in pain. Rhinos don’t. They don’t show signs if they’re in pain. They could move one leg, abruptly stop, then just dead,” said Pak Wid at a press statement, last week.
Before Najaq was rescued, she got caught by a snare on her left rear leg. The camera trap showed that she was relentlessly trying to get off from the snare on October 2015. The snare was no longer in sight but her leg was hurt pretty badly.
She was rescued on March 2016. A very long time but the decision was to ensure that the process would not injure or cause discomfort to the rhinos. It must be done naturally, at least. Meaning that you can’t herd them with dogs or drug them or shot them. You’d just have to wait for them to come across the site by themselves.
In addition, this is one of the rare species in the world, so, every steps must be calculated and according to procedure.
So, what’s left to be done?
The plea from conservationists include adding human resources for rhino protection unit (RPU). Up to date, only two RPUs comprise of seven people, have been established by the government. Ideally, you’d need ten RPUs at minimum to guard the site before extraction process.
RPUs are crucial. I’d like to call them as rhino bodyguards because one of their tasks is to patrol the area for possible threats, such as hunters or traps. In addition, they must also approach local villagers to minimize the use of traps. Besides snares, locals have been using booby traps to hunt. It is absolutely illegal but I would assume that people are also running out of food competing with mining, plantation and timber concessions.
It applies for the remaining two rhinos, named Pahu and Tenaik. After Najaq’s death, their survival have become more important than ever and sooner rather than later.
But, back again to natural. The team must come up with unique ideas to lure them to pit traps to be removed to temporary sanctuary. One of them is ‘calling’ the rhinos. I have never met any rhinos nor heard their sound. I only know that they are solitary and quiet. Apparently, you do can call them.
“Yes, you can call them. And, one of the team members managed to get them to respond. I hope we can immediately rescue them,” said Pak Wid beaming with hope.
After 40 years suspecting that Sumatran rhinos extinct in Borneo island, it is good news not only for Indonesia but also the world. It means that there’s hope to save this unique species. Indonesia has two rare rhino species, Java rhino and Sumatran rhino, in the world. It pretty much represents the country’s commitment and strong effort to protect this species and its habitat.
So, it is suffice to say that the government must also act fast to save them, beyond red tape. I learned that you’d need to get an official letter to relocate them and establish RPUs. It is a good think to be cautious and according to the procedure. However, lesson learned from Najaq’s case, it was quite slow.
It is fortunate that both rhinos are in good condition and hopefully, they’d survive long enough not to be prematurely preserved. [Fidelis E. Satriastanti].