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

Sep 22

Happy World Rhino Day!

Today marks the second annual World Rhino Day, and this year the day is dedicated to everyone involved in protecting rhinos. Here at ARKive we have decided to help raise rhino awareness the best way we know how, by taking you on an audio-visual rhino tour, exploring the reasons these particular perissodactyls (odd-toed ungulates) are worth celebrating and saving!     

Photo of a Sumatran rhinoceros feeding on vegetation

The Sumatran rhino is the smallest rhino species and the most endangered

The Fantastic Five     

There are five species of rhinoceros surviving today, ranging from the statuesque white rhinoceros to the diminutive Sumatran rhinoceros. They may differ in looks and distribution, but they share a number of common characteristics including a herbivorous diet and armour-plated appearance.     

Indian rhinoceros adult with young, photo

The Indian rhinoceros has a pronounced armour-plated appearance

What’s in a name?     

Rather confusingly, despite being called the ‘black’ and ‘white’ rhinos the two African species of rhinoceros are actually both glorious shades of grey. The name ‘white’ is thought to be a mistranslation of the Afrikaans word for ‘wide’, as the white rhino has a broad, square mouth in contrast to the pointed, prehensile lip of the black rhino.

 Eastern black rhinoceros feeding on a thorn bush         Southern white rhinoceros, showing diagnostic wide mouth

Let’s hear it for the horn  

The word rhinoceros is derived from the Greek meaning ‘nose horn’, and it’s not hard to see where the inspiration came from, given that the horns are probably the rhino’s most distinctive feature. Whether they have a single horn like the Indian and Javan rhinoceros, or two horns like the black, white and Sumatran rhinos, all rhino horns are made of fibrous keratin, rather than bone.    

Photo of a white rhinoceros grazing

White rhinoceros grazing

The problem…    

The greatest threat to rhino survival is poaching, as rhino horn is still in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicines and as decoratively carved ceremonial dagger handles. Habitat loss and deforestation have also increased the pressure on the forest dwelling Javan rhino making the populations increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters and disease.    

Photo of a Javan rhinoceros in shallows of river

Javan rhinoceros in shallows of river

The Solution?    

All is not lost however, there are a number of conservation efforts in place in an attempt to stabilise rhino populations including captive breeding programmes, rigorous protection of rhino populations in protected areas and de-horning to reduce the incentives to poach. None of this work would be possible without the work of dedicated individuals and organisations who devote their lives to the conservation and protection of rhinos – Rhino Heroes we salute you!    

Confiscated black rhinoceros' horns

Confiscated black rhino horns

Black rhinoceros guarded against poachers

Black rhinoceros guarded against poachers


Get involved   

Follow World Rhino Day on Facebook.  

Find out more about the organisations working to protect the world’s rhinos and learn how you can get involved by visiting WWF, International Rhino Foundation and Save the Rhino International

Laura Sutherland, ARKive Education Officer

Aug 22

The UK has secured an international agreement to clamp down on the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is now in such high demand that it is being sold for more than diamonds, gold and cocaine.

Photo of southern white rhinoceros eating grass

Southern white rhinoceros

“Conservation crisis”

With myths about its medicinal properties fuelling high demand in Asia, rhino horn is now worth over £50,000, or $82,400, a kilo. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of rhinos killed for their horns in countries such as South Africa, in what conservationists have called a “poaching crisis”.

The new agreement, reached at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva, will involve countries and conservation groups sharing policing techniques and working on awareness campaigns. The UK will also lead global talks to fight the myths about the medicinal properties of rhino horn.

Photo of confiscated black rhinoceros' horns

Confiscated black rhinoceros horns

The UK Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, described the illegal trade in rhino horns as “cruel and archaic”.

Criminals trading in rhino horn have lined their pockets while bringing this magnificent animal to the brink of extinction, but their days are now numbered,” she said.

We will be leading global action to clamp down on this cruel and archaic trade, and to dispel the myths peddled to vulnerable people that drive demand for rhino products.”

Photo of mutilated Indian rhinoceros

Mutilated Indian rhinoceros with its horn removed

Tighter export rules

Last year, after detecting a rise in the number of rhino horn products being sold through auction houses in Britain, the UK’s Animal Health agency warned that it would be refusing almost all applications to export rhino horn items.

The tighter rules come amid fears that the legal export of “worked items”, created and acquired before 1947, is being used to send rhino horn to Asia to be powdered down and used in the medicine trade. This could further increase the demand for illegally poached horns.

Under the new rules, export licences for rhino horn products will only be granted under special circumstances.

Photo of black rhinoceros feeding

Black rhinoceros feeding

As part of the clamp down on the illegal trade in rhino horns, the UK will also be supporting a workshop in South Africa in September, to help develop better co-operation between countries where rhinos are poached and the countries where the horns are sold.

Read the BBC News story – UK to lead international rhino horn clampdown.

View photos and videos of rhinoceros species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jul 28

Populations of tigers, elephants, rhinos and many other species are being decimated by immense organised crime syndicates and the illegal wildlife trade, according to a recent paper by WCS conservationist Elisabeth Bennett.

Photo of a Sumatran tigress

Sumatran tigress

Illegal trade in wildlife parts is becoming increasingly sophisticated, backed by highly efficient organised crime rings. This, coupled with dated enforcement methods, is causing populations of some of the world’s most charismatic species to plummet on an unprecedented scale.

The paper, published last month in Oryx, suggests that much of the trade is driven by wealthy East Asian markets that have a ‘seemingly insatiable appetite’ for wildlife parts.

Demand driven by East Asian markets

High-value body parts and products, such as rhino horn and bear bile, are just two of the much sought after items often destined for East Asian markets. Each year, international organisations such as TRAFFIC and CITES report on hundreds of cases of illegal trade in wildlife from around the world.

According to Bennett, sophisticated smuggling operations carried out by organised crime syndicates have allowed the gangs to devastate wildlife populations more than ever before.

Photo of skins of poached Indian rhinoceros, Nepal

Skins of poached Indian rhinoceros, Nepal

Current enforcement systems were not established to tackle wildlife crime seen on today’s scale, and weak governance and inadequate resources facilitate the flourishing trade. The paper highlights some of the elaborate methods used by the crime rings, including hidden compartments in shipping containers, rapidly changing smuggling routes to avoid detection, and the use of e-commerce (buying and selling online), making it difficult to detect locations.

“Unless we start taking wildlife crime seriously and allocating the commitment of resources appropriate to tackling sophisticated, well-funded, globally-linked criminal operations, populations of some of the most beloved but economically prized, charismatic species will continue to wink out across their range, and, appallingly, altogether” says Bennett.

Urgent need for law enforcement

In her paper, Bennett highlights that enforcement of wildlife laws is an immediate short-term solution to stave off local extinction of wildlife.

Enforcement includes everything from increasing the numbers of staff at all points of the trade chain, to ensuring that staff are highly trained and well-equipped. New technology may also help with enforcing wildlife laws, such as smart-phone apps with species identification programs.

Photo of a guard showing all the animal traps collected within two months in Virunga National Park, habitat of the mountain gorilla

Guard showing all the animal traps collected within two months in Virunga National Park, habitat of the mountain gorilla

Enforcement is critical,” says Bennett, “Old-fashioned in concept but needing increasingly advanced methods to challenge the ever-more sophisticated methods of smuggling. When enforcement is thorough, and with sufficient resources and personnel, it works.”

Success in tackling the devastating illegal trade in wildlife, says Bennett in her paper, will necessitate commitment from governments and non-governmental organizations and the support of civil society.

Read the WCS Press Release.

Read the paper in Oryx.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author


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