Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Tuesday declared 2012 International Rhino Year and called for increased efforts to save critically endangered rhino species before it is too late. Several countries are supporting the rhino year.
Speaking from the presidential palace in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, on the occasion of World Environment Day, Yudhoyono said his country will work to prevent the extinction of rhinoceros. "I declare 2012 as the International Rhino Year," he said, as quoted by the Jakarta Globe.
Environmentalists have criticized Indonesia in the past for being too easy on poachers, who have killed hundreds of rhinos this year alone, bringing them closer to extinction. Currently, killing a rhino in Indonesia carries a maximum sentence of just one year in prison and a Rp 300,000 ($33) fine. Environmentalists have stressed the importance of revising animal protection laws in order to fight the rhinos' extinction before it is too late.
"We've agreed to preserve and prevent the extinction of rhinoceros, which live in mere 11 countries now," Yudhoyono said, without giving specific details on how he wants to achieve this goal. "Let's make the preservation of rhinos part of an effort to establish our nation's reputation as one of the global leaders in environment-oriented economic development."
The Jakarta Globe reported that eleven countries are supporting Yudhoyono's International Rhino Year, including Malaysia, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Bhutan, Nepal, India and Zimbabwe. Indonesia is home to the world's two most endangered rhino species, the Sumatran and Javan rhinos.
Rhinos are mostly being killed for their horns which are popular in medicine markets across Southeast Asia, and an increasing demand has pushed prices to more than $65,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds), making it more expensive than gold, platinum and cocaine. Some believe that ingesting the horns can cure or prevent cancer, for which there is no scientific evidence.
Last year, when at least 448 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone, the International Union for the Conservative of Nature (IUCN) declared Africa's Western Black Rhinoceros to be extinct. The rhino subspecies was once widespread in central-west Africa, but the Western Black Rhinoceros became heavily hunted in the beginning of the 20th century.
Although preservation actions in the 1930s allowed the species to partially recover, protection efforts later declined. By 2000, only about a dozen Western Black Rhinoceros were thought to be alive, and a survey in 2006 found none to be alive. No sightings of the animal have been reported since, and none were held in captivity.
Also last year, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Rhino Foundation confirmed that Javan rhinoceros have also been driven to complete extinction in Vietnam. With the complete extinction in Vietnam, only one small group remains in the wild: the 40 to 50 Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon in Indonesia.
Specialists believe the population of the Sumatran rhino, which is one of the three species of rhinos in Asia and the only one with two horns, is somewhere between 180 and 200 in all of Indonesia, with around 120 of them being in the province of Lampung alone. During the last 15 years, the Sumatran rhino population has declined by 50 percent, making it one of the most endangered rhino species in the world.
Late last year, Indonesian Rhino Foundation chairman Widodo Ramono warned that the Sumatran rhinoceros in Lampung province is on the brink of extinction due to hunting and habitat destruction in the region. He said the rhino population is now about 30 in Way Kambas National Park and 80 in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. He noted that their low reproduction rates are being further affected by climate change and the human impact on their environment.
So far this year, poachers have killed at least 227 rhinos in South Africa, most of them at the Kruger National Park.