Ujung Kulon National Park -It’s a Jungle

Ujung Kulon National ParkUjung Kulon National Park is one of the last extensive areas of lowland rainforest in Java and the final refuge of the Java rhinoceros. Rhino poaching is still a serious threat to the small population of Java rhinos that inhabit the park, but anti-poaching patrols have been very successful at preventing illegal hunting inside the park.

The Indian rhinoceros has it easy, compared to Asia’s other one-horned rhino, the Java rhinoceros. Less than 60 individuals remain, scrounging around this once remote peninsula of earthquake-prone Java, in the shadow of the feared volcano Krakatoa. (Another half-dozen cousins have been reported in Vietnam.) Slightly smaller than their Indian cousins, with different folds in their thick-skinned “armor,” these Javans also have a long upper lip— and why not, since they’re really pachyderms. Hiding out in the dense lowland forests of this protected park, they’re safe at last from the widespread poaching that whittled their numbers so drastically; they’re also far from the agricultural crops they used to raid, which gave them an unfair local reputation as pests.

This part of Java used to be farmland too—until August 1883, when the offshore volcano Krakatoa erupted, killing more than 36,000 people. Farmers fled and, with continued eruptions over the years—in 1952, 1972, 1992, 1994—they never moved back. The jungle reclaimed the land swiftly, especially fast-growing figs and palms. Protected by the sea on three sides and mountains on the other, the peninsula’s like a Hollywood version of tropical beauty, with loads of orchids clambering over the trees—luminous white moon orchids, deep red pipit orchids, mauve dove orchids, and tiny white squirrel-tail orchids, which only open for 1 day—and large soft-petalled blossoms scattered over the beach every dawn.

The rhinos roam widely over these densely forested lowlands, especially active at night; they leave the tree cover to wallow in mud pools and venture onto beaches, but few park visitors actually spot one. Still, as you hike around Ujung Kulong trails, look for telltale rhino hoof prints and droppings on the trails. Be careful: Javan rhinos can run as fast as humans, and they’re likely to charge fiercely if they see you.

The Javan tiger was driven out 40 years ago, but leopards, wild dogs, fishing cats, civets, and the Javan mongoose still thrive. Ujung Kulon also has five rare species of primates: the glossy black Javan silverleaf monkey and its slightly heavier gray relative the grizzled leaf monkey in the mountains; black-faced gray Java gibbons and nocturnal slow lorises in the forest; and long-tailed crab-eating macaques, who scamper around beaches and reefs at low tide. Over 250 species of birds live here, mostly hidden in the dense tree canopy (you’ll hear their songs, all right), as well as a number of herons and storks and other water birds in the freshwater swamp and mangrove forest along the north coast.

The best way to get here is by boat from Labuan (5–6 hr.), where you can get entrance permits and make lodging reservations at the PHPA parks office; hire required local guides at Tamanjaya.