Indonesia: Saving Sumatran rhinos through art

A. Kurniawan Ulung Jakarta Post 25 Jan 18;

In a painting of a sad-eyed Sumatran rhino, a tag depicting the word “Life” was attached to his horn, illustrating the heart-rending situation where this iconic species is still hunted because of the false belief that its horn has medicinal value or to show off someone’s success and wealth.

The Life painting, created by Reza Mustar, was one of the artworks displayed during a recently completed art exhibition titled “Sumatran Rhinos Art Exhibition: Indonesia’s Hidden Treasure,” held at the National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta over three days.

Initiated by the Sumatran Rhino Conservation Consortium, or Tim Badak, the exhibition displayed the work of 10 artists with the aim of raising people’s awareness about Sumatran rhinos, which are on the brink of extinction for many reasons, including poaching and habitat encroachment.

With a short life expectancy of between 35 and 40 years, the conservation of Sumatran rhinos is difficult. It is estimated that there are only 100 Sumatran rhinos currently living in their habitat in Sumatra. They are scattered around the Way Kambas National Park (TNWK), the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (TNBBS) in Lampung and the Gunung Leuser National Park (TNGL) in Aceh.

It is possible that the future generation might only have a chance to see the two-horned hairy rhinos in the form of statues if stronger action to save their population is not taken immediately.

As the smallest of the rhino family, Sumatran rhinos weigh about 600 to 900 kilograms and grow to a height of nearly 140 centimeters at the shoulders and 180 to 250 cm in length. Their reddish-brown skin is covered in short, dark and stiff hair to help keep mud caked to their bodies to protect them from insects.

Sumatran rhinos have two smooth horns, an anterior horn that can grow up to 25 cm and a posterior horn of around 10 cm in length. They are used not only to break branches and to dig for water, but also to defend territory and to guide and defend calves from predators.

The agile mammals can run quickly and climb mountains easily and negotiate steep slopes and riverbanks. Through her colorful painting, entitled Rhino Chooros, illustrator Citra Marina wanted people to treat the rhinos as their friends.

“Despite their robust look, the rhino is actually a gentle creature, which likes to spend its time wallowing in mud,” she said.

In the painting, with “You are My Dear, Rhino Chooros” written on the canvas, a cute and cheerful Sumatran rhino was seen mingling with Choo Choo, a half-dog, half-fox character that Citra created to represent herself.

“After researching, I just know that the rhino is like me, [someone] who tends to be reclusive and shy. The more I learn about this species, the more I care for and love it,” she said.

For her, Sumatran rhinos are unique because they are helpful and happy-go-lucky. They are also known as the “Gardeners of the Forest” because they eat more than 100 species of native forest plants and they contribute to increasing biodiversity by dispersing seeds through their habitat.

In her watercolor illustration series, entitled The Love of Mother and Daughter, Naela Ali portrayed the love of Ratu and her 18-month-old baby, Delilah, — two Sumatran rhinos living at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in the TNWK in Lampung.

She illustrated how Ratu and Delilah were always together and how the mother kept a close eye on the calf to protect her. Naela expressed the hope that with the power of her mother, Delilah could increase optimism about a better life for the Sumatran rhino.

The birth of Delilah in May 2016 was celebrated across the archipelago given the difficulty in breeding Sumatran rhinos in captivity. Rhinos usually give birth once in every three to five years. The name Delilah itself, which means gift from God, was given by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to express his gratitude.

A strong message against poaching can be seen in artist Mochtar Sarman’s Love Me. Visitors wearing a pair of 3D glasses were able to find two hidden texts in the painting — “Love Me” and “Dicerorhinus sumatrensis,” the scientific name of the Sumatran rhino.

He said he painted his painting in red to depict the splash of blood of hunted rhinos.

“This is the painting of a rhino’s face targeted by poachers,” he said.

In April 2016 in West Kutai, East Kalimantan, Sumatran rhino Najaq was found dead from septicemia caused by a leg wound after her left leg was entangled in a snare.

In June 2017, Puntung, a Sumatran rhino, was due to be euthanized as a way to end her suffering in her battle against squamous cell cancer. The story of Puntung as a fighter went viral because she survived poachers’ attempts when her foot was cut off, according to the Borneo Rhino Alliance. She later fell pregnant, but tragically lost her baby, — a complication that resulted in cysts in her uterus. But, she still fought on until her condition began to decline.

Although the Sumatran Rhinos Art Exhibition is over, the artworks can still be accessed as they are due to be auctioned until Feb. 7 on website as a way to raise funds to be donated for the conservation of Sumatran rhinos.

Noviar Andayani, the country director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, one of the six members of Tim Badak, said the exhibition was aimed at attracting the attention of young people.

“Today’s generation is expected to develop and practice pro-environmental behavior, such as not being too consumerist so that we do not need to sacrifice our tropical forest, which is actually home to our rare animals, including Sumatran rhinos,” she said.