Ujung Kulon National Park has been on my travel list for a long time. It was probably 5 years ago when a friend of mine asked me to join him on a trip to Ujung Kulon. He excitedly told me, “we’ll see the rhinos!”

It surprised me to learn that there were rhinos living so close to Jakarta. Most people always think about Africa when they imagine seeing rhinos, but there are actually two species of rhino living in Indonesia. They are the Javan and Sumatran Rhino. The other special of rhinos left in the world are the Indian Rhino, African Rhino-white and African rhino-black.

Javan rhinos and Sumatran rhinos are both critically endangered. In terms of number, there are many more Sumatran rhinos than Javan rhinos. In total there are around 60 Javan rhinos, though the numbers are not balanced (there are 27 female and 33 male Javan rhinos).

While the Sumatran rhino is still under threat of extinction due to rampant poaching, the Javan rhino has its own problems. The only habitat of the Javan rhino is Ujung Kulon National Park, the location is considered quite vulnerable from the threat of eruption from Mount Krakatoa. Should there be a major eruption at Krakatoa then there is a strong chance that Javan rhinos will become extinct.

Sight near Handeuleum island dock

Sight near Handeuleum island dock

Unfortunately I never did join the trip with my friend (though he never did get to see any rhinos). When WWF Indonesia contacted me regarding a field trip to look at the conservation efforts for the Javan rhino and the work they do in Ujung Kulon National Park I jumped at the chance. The first part of the adventure was getting to the park.

Ujung Kulon National Park is a five-hour drive from Jakarta. It’s a long overland trip from Jakarta to the far western end of the island of Java. To get there you need to drive from Jakarta to Pandeglang and then to Labuhan (where WWF Indonesia – Ujung Kulon representative office is located). From Labuhan you head to Sumur, where you’ll continue the journey by boat.
Handeuleum island Ujung Kulon

Most people who visit Ujung Kulon National Park will either stay on Handeuleum or Peucang island. Both islands have very basic accommodation. When I visited Ujung Kulon with WWF Indonesia we stayed on Handeulum Island, which was a 2 hours boat journey from Sumur (you can find out more about the project WWF runs in Ujung Kulon National park here).

Ujung Kulon National Park covers an area of 122,000 hectares. It’s a huge expanse of land and the chance of seeing a rhino is pretty small (it’s roughly 2,000 hectares per rhino). Though Javan Rhinos are the superstars of Ujung Kulon National Park, there are a lot of other animals too like deer, bull, peacocks, wild boar, and monkeys that inhabit the area.

From left to right: Markings made by the rhino. Rhino poo. Place where rhinos like to roll.

From left to right: Markings made by the rhino. Rhino poo. Place where rhinos like to roll.

I hoped to see Rhinos during my trip to Ujung Kulon. Though we never saw any, we did see traces of rhino. For example one of the guides we were with showed us a part of a tree, covered in mud, which had been damaged by the rhino horns. We also saw rhino hoof prints in the mud.

Langkap plants, which is destroying the rhino habitat

Langkap plants, which is destroying the rhino habitat

While exploring Ujung Kulon National Part we learned about some of the specific issues threatening the Javan Rhino population. Some of these issues included the Langkap, Arenga obtusifolia, an invasive species that has spread through the Ujung Kulon National Park. This plant is tree that grows up to 16 meters high and kills the plants that the rhinos rely on for food by blocking out the sunlight. Other issues affecting the rhinos are competition between bulls for food.

Rhino restaurant - all the greens they can eat

Rhino restaurant – all the greens they can eat

If you were wondering, ‘what are the chances of seeing a rhino if I visit Ujung Kulong National Park?’ Unfortunately it’s very small. Ade Sumarma, an officer of the Rhino Monitoring Unit for Balai Taman National Ujung Kulon, said that he sees a rhino on average twice a year (and he lives in the park). Confirmation, in case you needed it, that rhinos are very shy creatures.

Have you ever been to Ujung Kulon National Park? What was your experience of the park?