In 1990, the Minnesota Zoo charted a new course for wildlife conservationists in zoos worldwide by "adopting" an Indonesian National Park. Through this in situ (on location) conservation project, the zoo provided direct assistance to Indonesian forestry rangers in their efforts to better manage and protect their national parks. This in situ conservation program, which we ran for more than 15 years, validated the zoo's Conservation Policy, which states "the Zoo will continue to support the preservation and restoration of endangered species' natural habitats". The Adopt-a-Park Program allowed us to reach beyond our "own fences" to protect wild animals where they live naturally.”
The Minnesota Zoo's first park of choice was Ujung Kulon - a small, verdant wilderness (one-fourth the size of Yellowstone National Park) perched on the western-most tip of Java in Indonesia. It is virtually the last refuge of the one-horned Javan rhinoceros, a shy forest dwelling rhino that once ranged across much of Indochina. Today, fewer than 60 animals are believed to exist in the wild - the majority of them in Ujung Kulon with perhaps a handful in southern Vietnam.
Why would the Minnesota Zoo concern itself with a conservation dilemma located half a globe away? This outreach program was a natural extension of the Zoo's conservation policy, and Ujung Kulon was a perfect choice for us. This park protects one of the last remaining fragments of lowland forest on Java, many species of rare plants, hundreds of bird species (several of which are displayed in the Zoo's Asian Tropics), numerous rare amphibians, fish and reptiles as well as the Javan rhino. By using the rhino as a “flagship” and "umbrella species" we attracted attention and funds that otherwise would not be available, and thereby helped conserve a significant combination of Javan wildlife species as well as an entire ecosystem that is recognized as a natural area of global importance.
Reflecting the park's most urgent needs, our first priority was to improve transportation and communication links for park guards by purchasing locally-built patrol boats (one was christened the Minnesota) to ferry park staff and supplies to remote guard posts, canoes for patrolling inland rivers, field bikes for patrolling roads on the eastern side of the park, and elements of a field communication system for several guard posts.
In subsequent years, in partnership with the New Zealand Department of Nature Conservation, we focused on the renovation or construction of more modern guard posts. Another partner, the Minnesota Conservation Officers Association, focused on training park rangers in law enforcement techniques and provided rangers with necessary equipment. Additionally, the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) supported the first complete photo-trapping census of Javan rhinos in the park.
From 1990-2007, the Minnesota Zoo and its conservation partners (noted above) provided over $500,000 to the Adopt-A-Park Program in Ujung Kulon and Way Kambas National Parks. In 1995 this program was awarded the AZA’s International Conservation Award and in 1997 was subsumed under the umbrella of the International Rhino Foundation. Since the anti-poaching patrols were inserted into Ujung Kulon National Park no rhinos have been poached.