The Last Frontier of Javanese Rhinos
When Krakatau volcano in Sunda Strait nearby the Java island erupted in 1883, its roars said to be heard from Rangoon in Burma to Perth in Australia, whilst its pumice was towering until 26 km sykwards. It brought a total devastation as it pulverized almost everything nearby.
But its ashes left a fertile ground afterwards and make it possible for a very high-biodiversity to live and grow lushfully, especially those in the current Ujung Kulon National Park. Located in the peninsula of the westernmost tip of Java island in Indonesia, the 121-ha park was declared “world heritage site” by UNESCO in 1992. Famous as it is, it still becomes an off the beaten track for most eco-travellers.
Lack of information and of sea transportation make it difficult for people to reach the park. The first time I visited Ujung Kulon was in 1991 as a backpacker who started my journey from Labuan, a small city located 3 hours away by bus from Jakarta.
From there it took another several hours by a public transporation through a very bumpy road to reach a fishing village of Taman Jaya, often regarded as the first travellers’shelter post before entering the real tropical jungle. A local guide from the village would be accompanying the travellers for the afterwards journey.
It was few days before Christmast and turned out not to be a very perfect time for anybody to explore Ujung Kulon. The West wind that blows from October to March always drive the sea wave to its peak of madness in November and December. Best time to visit Ujung Kulon is from April to August when the South wind succeeds the West wind to the throne.
But my buddies and I were already there and the hesitant guide was finally agreed to accompany us. We had to take the fisherman’s boat to reach Peucang isle, the mostly- headed destination in Ujung Kulon. The guide was right about his fear when the lord of the sea showed its dislike towards our stuborness by causing its strong waves to rock our small boat like crazy. The torture in this open sea lasted for several hours under a heavy storm and thunders.
When we finally reached Peucang isle, the situation was reversed. It was like reaching the heaven of peacefulness. A very white sandy beach welcoming the stranded travellers, while various kind of small fishes swam gracefully on the crystal water below the isle’s pier. A humble and small resort belongs to the Ministry of Foresty greeted us to spend a night’s rest there.
When I got back to the same spot recently, about 10 years after my first trip, the situation is almost unchanging. There are now additional new buildings and better guests rooms in the resort. A flock of deers (Cervus timorensis) which always graze and spend their nights in the resort’s lawn and the naughty local monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) that surround the resort remain just the same, except that their population is now increasing. One male deer has been so tamed and was willing to accept vegetable that I handed in to his mouth.
The resort’s officer told me that presently many Australians surfers spend their nights here as the wave in Panaitan isle, located closed from Peucang’s turned out to be very good for advanced surfing. An inbound tour operator even said that Panaitan’s beach is the second surfing best destination in Indonesian archipelago after Nias in Sumatra.
During his term of power, Soeharto, an ex Indonesian despot-president often retreated in Peucang for fishing. Blue marlin is one of the major fish species that make up the sea kingdom nearby the isle. His ex room is sold for US$ 50 per night. Other rooms totalling 23 units, sold between US$ 35 to 90 per room per night. But they also provide cheap barrack for backpackers or student travellers.
Though named as a resort, the building is still located in the jungle. So we have to check the bed first before lying down our tired body on it, as sometimes the lazy phyton (Phyton reticulatus) could just sneak in inside the warm blanket to share the bed with us. It was exactly what was happening to a fellow guest who shared the same compound with mine. Fortunately he was aware of its existence before anything happen. A snake tamer soon called in and brought the slithering reptile out of the bed and said that it is not poisonous, but could cause quite a wound when biting. “It is a sign of good luck.” said him soothingly. It seems that the snake chased after the frog who leapt into the bed.
Another reptile that often seen around the resort is biawak (Varanus salvator), the little brother of komodo, the biggest giant reptile still live on earth at Komodo island in East Nusa Tenggara. But biawak is not dangerous and is even very shy. I managed to take its picture though, as shown in this site.
Whilst trekking through the isle’s forest, old feathers used to sparkle the beauty of green peacock’s (Pavo muticus) could be often found. Ten minutes across the Peucang isle by boat, is Cidaon, the grazing ground of Javanese wild bulls (Bos javanicus). Like deers, the bulls graze early in the morning from 6 to 8 am and get back to the same ground around 4 to 6 pm for us to watch from a far.
As the matter of fact, Ujung Kulon is also the last frontier of very ancient and rare Javanese rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus). They used to live in various places in Java island from East Java to the west, but currently there are only around 50 to 60 Javanese rhinos living on earth in this very Ujung Kulon. Well protected and famous as it is, the Indonesian government once used Javanese rhino as a mascot for its tourism marketing in 1991. However it is almost impossible for anybody, even the experienced park rangers, to meet these rhinos. The park’s monitoring unit constantly traces down their biological residuals and footprints on a two weekly basis for the sake of conservation. Pictures of the rhinos mostly taken by hidden cameras deliberately set in by scientists.
Trees that exist here is not less unique than its animals. Many are as old as 100 years old after Krakatau destroyed the old ones in 1883. Some of the weirdest trees are the strangling fig (Ficus variegata) in Peucang isle and a giant nyamplung tree (Calophyllum inophyllum) in Panaitan isle. So big the later is, it needs 6 to 7 adults to circle its trunk.
In the latter years, river canoeing across the mangrove forest is also developed as another activity for visitors. I did not manage to do this in both my first and second visit. In my first visit, my buddies and I continued the trip instead to Sang Hyang Sirah, the remotest spot in Ujung Kulon where there is the meditation cave often visited by the locals to ask for blessings from the Almighty.
It took almost a whole day from morning till late afternoon to reach Sang Hyang Sirah by foot from Tanjung Layar, where the old and new lighthouse towers stand skyward, faithfully signalling the ships sailing the Indian Ocean. We met almost no other human travellers passing by during the trekking time, except some locals who were caught up stealing the highly expensive swallow nests from the caves in Sang Hyang Sirah. The park rangers brought them to the nearest post in Taman Jaya village for further questionings.
Our provision for drinking water along the trip taken from the crystal-clear estuaries of various small rivers heading into the sea. When we finally erected the tents in Sang Hyang Sirah in late afternoon, it was Christmast eve. There was no bright sun set as the sky was very cloudy. But we felt a strong sense of tranquility and thankfulness, for being able to enjoy the beauty of nature in Ujung Kulon. **
Published on 8/20/02