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Baby Boom for World's Rarest Rhino Species

Jakarta, Indonesia/Washington - Scientists have found signs of four Javan rhinos born in recent weeks in Indonesia, a surprising baby boom for a species that may number fewer than 60 individuals in the wild.

Signs of the rhino calves were discovered in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park by a team of biologists, including park rangers, World Wildlife Fund staff and local people checking on the rhinos after the recent earthquake on the island of Java. These are the first known births for the Javan rhinos in three years.

"Javan rhinos are probably the rarest large mammal species in the world and they are on the very brink of extinction," said Arman Malolongan, Director General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation at Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry. "To discover that this population is breeding - and even slowly growing - gives us hope for the species' future."

Javan rhinos are the rarest of the world's five rhino species. Between 28 and 56 Javan rhinos live in Ujung Kulon. The only other known population is in Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam, where no more than eight rhinos likely survive.

The team found the first sign of a calf a few weeks ago: a small footprint (about six and a half inches long) along with a larger footprint belonging to the mother. One day later, another set of mother and calf footprints of slightly different size was found in a different area. Both signs were estimated to be three days old or less. On the same day, a second team came face-to-face with another calf, a female, and her mother. And the following day, the team found a fourth small footprint in a different location.

"The distance between the four areas where the tracks were found as well as differences in the sizes of the footprints tells us that there are four different calves," said Matthew Lewis, Program Officer for WWF's Species Conservation Program. "We hope to monitor the calves' progress by capturing photos of them on one of the many motion-triggered camera traps that we have set up around Ujung Kulon National Park."

The new evidence of breeding Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon bolsters the work of WWF-Indonesia and the Ujung Kulon National Park Authority including anti-poaching law enforcement in Ujung Kulon National Park, which has resulted in the complete elimination of rhino poaching since the early 1990s and has enabled the rhino population to reach its current numbers. WWF now calls for establishing a second population of Javan rhinos outside the park to protect the species from disease or natural disasters that could wipe out the entire population.