Javan rhino confirmed extinct in Vietnam

The Vietnamese subspecies of the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) was declared extinct in a report critical of Vietnam’s ‘poor protection and law enforcement’ that was jointly produced by the International Rhino Foundation and World Wildlife Fund.

Although widely believed to have perished during the Vietnam War, a rhino was hunted in the Cat Loc region of southern Vietnam in 1988, which led to the discovery of a small population of about 15 animals. The area was subsequently designated protected in 1992 and eventually incorporated into Cat Tien National Park, but despite conservation attempts by several organisations, the results of a 2004 survey identified only two individuals remained.

Further survey work by a research team from WWF and Cat Tien National Park, conducted between October 2009 and April 2010, involved the collection of 22 dung samples from the park’s core rhino area.

They were sent to Canada’s Queen’s University for genetic analysis, together with the skin and teeth samples from the mutilated body of a female Javan rhino, that was found soon after the official survey ended. The results confirmed that all the samples were from one individual. According to the WWF report the dead rhino was the probable victim of poaching: ‘a common problem in most protected areas in Vietnam that threatens the survival of many other species’.

WWF’s species program manager in the Greater Mekong Nick Cox said the report showed actions to save the Javan rhino in Vietnam were inadequate, and this continued situation would undoubtedly lead to the extinction of many more species from the country.

“The tragedy of the Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros is a sad symbol of this extinction crisis. The single most important action to conserve Vietnam’s endangered species is protecting their natural habitat and deterring poaching and illegal wildlife trade. Vietnam’s protected areas need more rangers, better training and monitoring, and more accountability,” he said.

Despite the lack of any scientific evidence to support claims rhino horn contains medicinal properties beneficial in treating cancer, and that it is no longer listed in the official Chinese traditional medicine pharmacopeia, rhino horn continues to be in high demand for traditional Asian medicine.

This puts increased pressure on the last remaining Javan rhino population living in Indonesia’s Ujong Kulon National Park. Based on IRF camera trap data, this critically endangered population is thought to consist of between 2 and -44 animals. Of these only three to five are believed to be breeding females.

With Vietnam’s position as the pre-eminent market destination for illegally sourced rhino horns TRAFFIC rhino program co-ordinator Tom Milliken said it was hardly surprising the horn was missing from Vietnam’s last rhino.

“It’s tragic that the Javan rhino has been wiped out in Vietnam by the same forces that are driving rhino poaching in Africa. This is the ultimate wake-up call for the Vietnamese government to turn aggressively on its internal rhino horn market,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of Indonesia’s UKNP rhino population the IRF’s Susie Ellis said losing the last rhino in Vietnam made the organisation’s 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,” she said.

With reports that 341 South African rhinos have already been killed during 2011, compared with a 2010 total 333 animals, conservationists are calling for ‘significant improvements in law enforcement and protected area management in Vietnam to ensure other species do not share the same fate as the Javan rhinoceros’.

ANNE LAYTON-BENNETT