Conservation Hero: Inov Sectionov

Image credit: Courtesy of the International Rhino Fund

Conservation Hero: Inov Sectionov

In 1999, Inov Sectionov was researching the competition for resources between two large mammals in the Ujung Kulon National Park on the island of Java in Indonesia. While comparing the Javan rhino and banteng, Sectionov found that Javan rhinos face far more challenges in addition to the threat of poaching including habitat loss and social reproductive issues. His concern led him to shift gears and commit his work to saving the Javan rhino. He began his work at an Indonesia conservation NGO and in 2006 joined the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) where he currently resides as the Indonesian Program Manager.

Rhinos are mega-herbivores that are important to the ecosystem because they are a ‘keystone species’ whose role within an ecosystem has an enormous effect on other organisms, with several crucial roles on the environmental and biological services that they provide.

Rhinos fundamentally rework the land around them by wallowing in mud puddles that create natural water holes holding enough water for many species to drink. They are also known as ‘gardeners of the forest’ that consume vegetation and deposit dung, spreading nutrients and providing the basis of complex food chains.  As they wander through the jungle, seeds get stuck to their skin that eventually germinate and grow into trees whose roots serve as windbreaks, while also preventing floods and landslides. When a rhino population thrives, hundreds of other species thrive alongside them.

Currently Javan rhinos are the rarest rhino and most threatened of the five rhino species, with 75 individuals that live in Ujung Kulon National Park.

IRF was founded 30 years ago and their vision is a world where rhinos thrive in the wild. They focus on the survival of rhinos through strategic partnerships, targeted protection, and scientifically sound interventions. In the past decade, IRF has channeled over $20 million to rhino conservation and research efforts. Their Javan rhino protection is three fold. In addition to the Rhino Protection Units that ensure the rhinos and park are safe 24/7, IRF also supports a monitoring program which tracks every individual rhino. This is imperative for the proper management of the species.

IRF also works with the community to remove the Arenga palm tree which is an aggressive species which blocks out rhino food plants. This has a domino effect where their removal means more food for the rhinos which means the park can support more of them. Looking to the future, their plan is to expand their efforts to protect even more populations of rhinos. IRF is currently working with the park to implement a real-time security and monitoring system. This means the park will immediately be alerted to any illegal activity, while also understanding more about the behaviors of each rhino in the park in real-time, allowing their management to be as up-to-date and effective as possible.

Sectionov is most passionate about working in the field with his team. Given that the communities that live near the Ujung Kulon National Park depend on its natural resources, it’s important to the conservation of the Javan rhino that the surrounding communities become involved with saving them. Despite the challenges, working with locals is one of the favorite parts of his position as program manager.

Sectionov's number one priority is to ensure that the rhinos and the habitats they depend on are safeguarded. It is also critical to stop the trafficking and consumption of the rhino horn. Once these two issues are tackled, rhino populations will bounce back naturally.

Human intervention is vital to the success of all rhinos thriving and Sectionov loves being able to see the Javan rhino in the field. He is committed to working as long as it takes to ensure these magnificent creatures survive for future generations.

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