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Rare Javan rhinos back from the brink

Javan rhino
Javan rhino calf, photographed itself 14 January, 2001 by a camera trap.  

By Nick Easen

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Hopes have been revived that the Javan rhino, one of the world's rarest large mammals, may be back from the brink of extinction following the discovery that four of the one-horned animals have been born in the wild over the last two years.

"The births are a significant step and indicate that the rhinoceros are breeding with potential for further gains in population after years of zero growth," says Nazir Foead, Deputy Director for Species Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), in Indonesia.

The arrival of the new rhinos occurred in Ujung Kulon National Park in the west of Indonesia's most populated island, Java.

The boost to the population of the Javan rhinos, consisting of 50 animals, brings a glimmer of hope to a country where the rhino population has remained unchanged for the last two decades.

"The aim of WWF and the park authority is to build the population up to the habitat's carrying-capacity of about 80 animals in Ujung Kulon, "says Foead.

"Once this is achieved, it will allow for the translocation of other animals to form a founding group for the second Javan rhino population in Indonesia."

The news also boosts conservation efforts in a country were wildlife has been depleted due to years of intense logging, as well as slash and burn agriculture.

Javan rhinos are the rarest large mammals in the world
Javan rhinos are the rarest large mammals in the world  

An 18-month survey carried out by WWF and the national park authority in Ujung Kulon confirmed the four births after camera traps set deep in rhinoceros habitat and DNA analysis of droppings were used to measure the rhinoceros population.

However, WWF staff have voiced concerns over the effectiveness of rhino monitoring in its rainforest habitat.

"Much more intensive monitoring of the new-borns and their mothers is needed so that the population growth can be convincingly determined," says Foead.

The only other population of Javan rhinos lives in Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam where five to eight animals live. The animal is not known to exist anywhere else.

Ujung Kulon, a 120,551-hectare reserve, was originally established to protect the rhinoceros, whose population fell to between 25 and 30 in the 1930s.

Since the 1960s, WWF has been working with the Indonesian authorities to improve park management and the conservation of the rhino.

Work has involved supporting village communities to improve their livelihoods without jeopardizing conservation of the rhinoceros.

Historically, the Javan rhinoceros' terriroty ranged widely from eastern India to as far as north as China and throughout Southeast Asia.

The other four surviving rhino species are the white rhino, of which about 5,000 remain, the black rhino of which there are about 2,600, the Indian rhino, 1,000, and the Sumatran rhino at just 200.


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