760 sq km of the peninsula and sea on Java's very remote south-western tip is devoted to Ujung Kulon National Park. Several offshore islands are included in the reserve, Peucang, Panaitan and one of which is the remains of a pre-16th century volcano. In 1883 the island of Rakata Besar exploded dramatically. It lost about half of its land area in the process and sent tidal waves across the Indian Ocean causing the deaths of 36,000 people. The smoking cone which can be seen today signals Anak Krakatau, offspring of the famous Krakatau. It appeared in 1929 and has continued to grow steadily; Java is one of the most geologically active places in the world.
Ujung Kulon has large tracts of undisturbed lowland rainforest, swamps and beaches. Because it is protected on three sides by sea, and on the fourth by the Honje mountains, it has provided a refuge for wildlife, some of which are now rare in the rest of heavily populated Java (population: over 100 million).
In the mid-1950s only 20-25 tigers remained on Java; half of these were in Ujung Kulon, but these are known to have vanished by the 1960s. The exact time of extinction for the Javan tiger remains unknown, but this was probably sometime in the 1980s. It was after this time, between 1980 and 1986 that the number of wild areas of Indonesia officially designated National Parks rose from five to sixteen. Ujung Kulon was one of the earliest preserved areas, first being protected in 1910, then declared a reserve in 1937. Come 1980 the designation was changed and became Indonesia 's first National park.
Ujung Kulon has always been of extremely high conservation value and contains several species of endangered or threatened animals. Oriental small-clawed otters, hornbills, leopards, Asian wild dogs, Javan leaf monkeys, crocodiles, green peafowl, Javan gibbons, Javan warty pigs, green turtles, milky storks and Banteng wild cattle all make their homes here. In total, over 350 species of animals and 250 species of birds have so far been recorded here.
The most important resident of the park is the Javan or Lesser One-horned rhinoceros. This is the most endangered large mammal in the world and only two wild populations remain (there are no Javan rhinoceros in captivity). Ujung Kulon contains 50-60 animals while Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam has another 10-15 with different physical characteristics. The two subspecies used to be common over India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Sumatra and Java.
In an attempt to save the small stable population in Ujung Kulon, efforts are being made to prevent the illegal access which is gained both from land and sea. Though the number of rhino is not increasing, the age structure shows change, so it is thought the amount of poaching is higher than originally considered. This cancels out the expected yearly population increases. Having said that, there have indeed been some rises in numbers. Back in 1967 Ujung Kulon rhino plunged to an all time low of 21-28 animals.
The population originally came under threat due to loss of habitat, and medicine or sport hunting. Male rhino are most at risk from poaching as they have the dense formation of hair which makes up a large horn. Females usually have no horn, and when they do, it's insignificant. As with tiger bone, rhino horn is highly valued in traditional Asian medicine, and also in common with the tiger, there is no proof it has anymore effect than a placebo. Its primary use is as an aphrodisiac.
It is possible the present population may be at or near carrying capacity; the park maximum is estimated to be in the region of 80-100 rhino. Translocation of excess animals to restock Vietnam is not able to be done. The two groups are very different and cross-breeding is not thought to be possible. Translocation of rhino is very difficult anyway with low survival rates. Even if placed in captivity these large mammals would have a very high mortality (about 30%); this is usual for captive rhino.
Fecal DNA analysis and camera traps are being utilised to gain a better understanding of the current population. Habitat, food availability, and the possibility of translocation are also under examination.
Like all Indonesian National Parks Ujung Kulon continues to increase in popularity. Though reaching Ujong Kulon is expensive and usually involves a long boat ride which, except for the dry season, can be a rough trip, it is now one of the most popular National Parks on Java. Even the thought of the recommended malaria shots don't seem to put visitors off. Fortunately, access to the area is strictly controlled and a permit must be gained for entry, while guides are required for those wanting to hike through the park.
With Thanks To Lisa Purcell (Photo 1)