Mar 21

A battle for survival

Despite three of the world’s five rhino species being classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, rhinos remain embroiled at the centre of a bitter poaching battle. In southern Africa, poaching is the single biggest threat to rhino survival, and since 2006, more than a thousand rhinos have been slaughtered by increasingly organised gangs and crime syndicates.

Levels of poaching have escalated in recent years, fuelled largely by increasing demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is highly valued in traditional medicine. In fact, rhino horn is known to rival the price of gold on the black market; last year in Vietnam dealers quoted prices of up to $133 per gram of rhino horn – almost double the price fetched by gold.

Get Involved: Your chance for a Q & A session with Peter Gwin

With several rhino species edging ever-closer to extinction, the urgent need for conservation of these magnificent animals has never been clearer. So, with that in mind, we’re giving you the chance to find out more about some of the issues surrounding rhino conservation.

On Thursday 22nd March at 5pm GMT/1pm EST/10am PST, ARKive is hosting an exclusive Facebook 30 minute chat with NatGeo author Peter Gwin about issues surrounding rhino conservation in South Africa.

Photo of black rhinoceros

The black rhino is the smaller of the two African rhino species, but it is still targeted by poachers for its valuable horn.

What would you like to ask Peter about rhino conservation? Post your questions on our Facebook event page for a chance to discover Peter’s views.

About the author

Peter Gwin has been a staff writer at National Geographic since 2003, reporting on everything from modern pirates in Southeast Asia to early tyrannosaurs in western China. His most recent piece, entitled Rhino Wars, was published in the March 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.

The article is a hard-hitting piece about some of the gritty issues faced by organisations and individuals’ working to conserve the world’s remaining rhinos (WARNING: some graphic images).

©Brent Stirton/National Geographic

A white rhino cow (left) grazes with a bull that has become her companion after a poaching attack in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Using a helicopter, a gang tracked her and her four-week-old calf, shot her with a tranquilizer dart, and cut off her horns with a chain saw. Rangers found her a week later, searching for her calf, which had died, probably of starvation and dehydration. ©Brent Stirton/National Geographic.

Peter will also be releasing an eShort book in April – Rhino Wars: The Violent Underworld of Poachers and Black Market Medicine.

Interested in rhino conservation? Don’t forget to join the debate on Facebook before Thursday and post your rhino conservation questions for Peter.

Jan 11

Conservationists in Nepal have reason to celebrate, as it has been reported that no Indian rhinos were killed by poachers in the country in 2011.

Indian rhino image

No Indian rhinos were killed by poachers in Nepal in 2011

Light at the end of the tunnel

There are currently five recognised species of rhino, three of which are found in Asia and two in Africa. All rhino species are poached for their horns, which are sold on the black market for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Despite being made of keratin, the same protein as that found in human hair and nails, rhino horn is sold for a staggering amount, and gram for gram is currently twice as expensive as gold.

With the number of rhinos lost to poachers in a single year in South Africa rising to a record 448 in 2011, the good news from Nepal is extremely welcome.

Nepal is home to approximately 534 of the world’s 2,500 Indian rhinos, the remainder of which are found in India. Also known as the greater one-horned rhino, the Indian rhino is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Indian rhino image

Rhinos are poached for their valuable horn which is sold on the black market

Rhinos on the brink

With three of the world’s five rhino species classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, conservation efforts are more important than ever. Sadly, 2011 also brought with it the news of the extinction of two rhino subspecies, the Vietnamese rhino and the western black rhino.

Yet the latest news from Nepal demonstrates how well-managed, targeted conservation action can contribute to the survival of a species. Asian species expert at WWF, Barney Long, is pleased with the results of the conservation efforts in Nepal, “This is the first time in 29 years that Nepal has gone an entire year without a single poached rhino, and it’s a testament to the efforts of the Government of Nepal, WWF and many partners.”

Indian rhino image

The Indian rhino is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

A positive approach

Mr Long hopes that the success of rhino conservation in Nepal, which has contributed to an increase in Indian rhino numbers, will spread further afield in the coming months, “We hope the new year will bring additional good news from other countries like South Africa as they continue to crack down on rhino poaching.

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Happy rhino news: no rhinos poached in Nepal last year.

View photos and videos of species found in Nepal on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Jan 5

Camera traps have successfully captured footage of 35 Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon National Park, Java, providing new evidence of this species’ sole surviving population.

Photo of Javan rhinoceros feeding

Evidence of breeding

The images from the cameras included five calves, giving encouraging confirmation that the rhinos in the park are breeding. However, they also showed that around 60% of the rhinos are male, raising concerns over an imbalance in the sex ratio of the tiny population, which could lead to increased fighting between rival males. Four of the five calves recorded were also male.

Photo of Indonesian Javan rhinoceros wading in water

According to Yanto Santosa, a Javan rhino expert from Bogor Institute of Agriculture, the camera footage gives more accurate estimates of rhino numbers than previous methods that involved counting rhino footprints.

Last stand against extinction

Previously widespread across Southeast Asia, the Javan rhinoceros population has been decimated by habitat loss and by hunting for its horns, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Photo of Javan rhinoceros in shallows of river

Until recently, this Critically Endangered species was confined to Java in Indonesia, and to a single national park in Vietnam. However, late last year it was announced that the Vietnamese subspecies, Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus, had become extinct, leaving the single Javan population as the species’ last stand against extinction.

Precarious future

Although the total number of rhinos in the park is likely to be higher than the 35 recorded on camera, the total population of this highly endangered species is not thought to exceed 60 individuals. As the entire population occurs in one park, it is also at high risk of being wiped out by a single natural disaster or outbreak of disease.

Photo of a pair of Indonesian Javan rhinoceros

With no Javan rhinos occurring in captivity, the preservation of the last remaining population in Ujung Kulon National Park is vital for the survival of the species.

To this end, a dedicated rhino breeding sanctuary is being set up within the park to help Indonesia reach its goal of increasing the population of this rare rhino to between 70 and 80 individuals by 2015.

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Camera traps snap 35 Javan rhinos, including calves.

Read more and watch footage from the camera traps at The Telegraph – Hidden cameras film rare Javan rhinos in Indonesia.

View photos and videos of the Javan rhinoceros on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Oct 28
Javan rhinoceros image

Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus)

Species: Javan rhinoceros                       (Rhinoceros sondaicus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Rhino horn is not made of bone, but keratin, the same substance that forms nails and hair.

The prehistoric-looking Javan rhinoceros is one of the world’s rarest large mammals. This amazing species has a single horn and an armour-plated appearance caused by the deep folds of hairless skin. Little is known of this exceptionally rare mammal. It is mainly a browser of leaves, twigs, fruits and shoots and often breaks saplings down to access food. The rate of reproduction in this species is relatively slow; females give birth to a single young every one to three years, after a presumed gestation of 15 to 16 months, as in other rhinos.

Habitat loss and poaching for its horn have played a major role in the decline of the Javan rhino, which, until recently, existed in just two populations, one in Vietnam and one on the island of Java. The last rhino in Vietnam has recently been killed by poachers, leaving this species extinct in Vietnam, and there are fears it may be too late to save the remaining 50 or so individuals left on Java.

Find out more about the Javan rhinoceros on the EDGE website.

View images and videos of the Javan rhinoceros on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Oct 25

WWF and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) have confirmed that the Javan rhinoceros has been driven to extinction in Vietnam. The last known Javan rhino was found dead in the Cat Tien National Park in April 2010.

Photo of Javan rhinoceros walking through water

Javan rhinoceros in water. This Critically Endangered species is now extinct in Vietnam.

Driven to extinction

It is thought that the last Javan rhino in Vietnam was a victim of poaching, as it was found with a bullet in its leg and its horn removed. The upsetting findings are presented in a new WWF report, ‘Extinction of Javan Rhino from Vietnam’.

A survey team from Cat Tien National Park and WWF collected 22 samples of rhinoceros dung between 2009 and 2010, and genetic analysis confirmed that all of the samples belonged to a single individual which was subsequently found dead in April last year.

“The last Javan rhino in Vietnam has gone,” said Tran Thi Minh Hien, WWF-Vietnam Country Director. “It is painful that despite significant investment in the Vietnamese rhino population conservation efforts failed to save this unique animal. Vietnam has lost part of its natural heritage.”

Photo of a pair of Indonesian Javan rhinoceros

Pair of Indonesian Javan rhinos. Fewer than 50 individuals now remain.

Work in Indonesia ‘critical’

The Javan rhinoceros has had a tumultuous history on mainland Asia and was previously believed to be extinct there until 1988, when an individual was discovered by hunters in the Cat Tien area. This led to the discovery of a small population, numbering just 8 individuals, in the Cat Tien National Park.

A number of conservation organisations were involved in efforts to conserve the remaining Javan rhino population in the national park; however, only one sighting of a Javan rhino had been recorded in Vietnam in recent years.

The new WWF report highlights that ineffective protection by the park was ultimately the cause of the extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam.

“Reintroduction of the rhinoceros to Vietnam is not economically or practically feasible. It is gone from Vietnam forever,” said Christy Williams, WWF’s Asian elephant and rhino programme co-ordinator.

The extinction of the Javan rhino from its last stronghold in mainland Asia means that worldwide population of this Critically Endangered (CR) species has now declined to less than 50 remaining individuals, all of which are confined to the Indonesian island of Java.

According to Susie Ellis of the International Rhino Foundation, the extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam makes their work in Indonesia even more critical.

“We must ensure that what happened to the Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam is not repeated in Indonesia a few years down the line”, says Ellis.

Photo of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in a tree

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is just one of a number of other species in Vietnam facing extinction.

Worldwide plight

The plight of rhinos is not limited to Asia, and earlier this year several reports indicated that rhino populations in Africa were also facing their worst poaching crisis for decades.

The rhino is globally threatened by the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is being driven by demand from the Asian medicinal markets.

In Vietnam, illegal hunting to supply the wildlife trade has also caused huge population declines in many other species, in many cases reducing them to small, isolated and highly vulnerable populations. Species such as the Indochinese tiger, the Asian elephant, the saola, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey and the Siamese crocodile are all on the verge of extinction, and may soon experience a similar fate to the Javan rhino if conservation efforts fail.

The tragedy of the Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros is a sad symbol of this extinction crisis,” said Nick Cox, Manager of WWF’s Species Programme in the Greater Mekong, Vietnam. “The single most important action to conserve Vietnam’s endangered species is protecting their natural habitat and deterring poaching and illegal wildlife trade”.

Read the WWF press release about the extinction of the Javan rhino from Vietnam.

Read the full story on the BBC news and Guardian websites.

Find out more about the International Rhino Foundation.

View images and videos of the Javan rhinoceros on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

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