Five Minutes with a Wildlife Conservationist

Five Minutes with a Wildlife Conservationist

#Conservation, #Taronga Conservation Society Australia

Posted on 29th November 2018 by Media Relations

Every year, Taronga sends its staff to assist other conservation organisations around Australia and internationally as part of its Zoo Friends Fellowship Program. From vet staff and carpenters to IT personnel and marketing experts, our fellows come from all areas of our organisation. Recently, veterinarian Michelle Campbell and elephant keeper Tim Bennett visited the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary to assist local NGO, YABI (Indonesian Rhino Foundation), with its work in conserving local species.

During their visit, Michelle and Tim sat down with Indonesian biologist Pak Widodo Ramono, Executive Director of YABI, to ask him about this critical work.

Pak Widodo spends much of his time at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary or inspecting the work of Rhino Protection Units at Bukit Barisan Selatan, Way Kambas and Ujung Kulon national parks. His work in wildlife conservation has seen him serve in a range of roles, from a forest guard and a teacher, to the head of Nature Protection and Conservation of Ujung Kulon National Park. As the former director of biodiversity conservation for Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry, Widodo also helped to establish management practices for the country’s national parks, nature and game reserves, recreation forests and wetlands.


What are some of the challenges facing wildlife, communities or habitats in your area?

There are quite a lot of challenges in those fields, especially habitat destruction or habitat utilisation for other purposes, which causes encroachment into conservation areas. Also hunting and the use of forest products illegally. These are all things challenging rhino conservation in Indonesia.

What are the key focus areas for YABI and your teams in the field?

We understand that rhino conservation in Indonesia is actually facing very serious destruction of the forest environment. The sustainability of the rhino itself is now very difficult. They are now considered to be endangered species, and even very endangered species, and therefore Indonesian rhino conservation is focussing on the protection of the rhinos, enhancing conservation breeding of the species, education and awareness. We are working with local people to increase their awareness and also working collaboratively with many institutions to support the continuation of the conservation activities of YABI.

What are YABI’s goals for the future?

This depends on how many years we look to. We hope that at least by 2020 we will enrich the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary’s productivity. So far, in about 4-5 years, we have produced two rhino babies. This is what we’d call the first significant achievement in an area that is natural Sumatran Rhino habitat. We are happy that we are able to propagate the rhino.

How do you work with local communities?

In Way Kambas we work with the local community by trying to reduce the direct resources taken from the forest and encourage eco-tourism and environmentally friendly farming. We help them develop homestays for overnight visitors so that they don’t have to stay in hotels but in locals’ houses. Meanwhile we also encourage them to revive their local culture, including celebrating the wellbeing of the national park and participating in activities like dancing or singing.

What would a regular day at work look like for you?

It’s very good. I am always challenged with this work. Living in the forest is much healthier than working in town, so I enjoy working on site here.

What is your greatest hope for the future of conservation in your region?

We hope that we can save the rhino. We know how to do that. We hope that we will have good support in continuing our work. We understand that this situation of the rhino in Indonesia is already reaching critical, therefore we have to be very aware of what is really needed and how to save the species’ habitat. If we are able to propagate the rhino, we have to send them back to the wild and for them to be safe. If we don’t have a good habitat we will not be successful. We also need to have an enabling environment for our work – the policies and the support of local community and good financial support. This financial support is very important because we cannot move anything here if we don’t have any support. Spirit only is not enough.


Taronga is a founding member of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) and continues to provide support for many of its activities in both Asia and Africa. In addition, our veterinarians, pathologists and reproductive biologists have worked with the IRF, the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary at Way Kambas National Park and the Asian Rhino Project to ensure the health of the rhinos and viability of the population overall. In Asia, Taronga supports the IRF and local NGO, YABI (Indonesian Rhino Foundation), to protect Sumatran and Javan Rhino species in Indonesia.

Taronga’s commitment to conservation in Sumatra extends to other threatened species, including the Asian elephant and the Sumatran Tiger. Working with a range of conservation groups and organisations, we are concentrating our efforts in and around Sumatra’s Way Kambas National Park, which is important habitat for these species.