WASHINGTON, DC, May 10, 2010 – A Javan rhino was found dead late last week in Vietnam’s Cat Tien National Park, further endangering the population of one of the world’s rarest large mammals, World Wildlife Fund announced today. It is now uncertain how many, if any, Javan rhinos are left in Vietnam.
Poaching is the most likely cause, as an examination by WWF and national park authorities found the rhino had been shot in the leg and the horn had been hacked off. Rhino horn is a highly valued commodity in the illegal wildlife trade, while rhino skin and feces are used for alleged medicinal purposes.
Vietnam’s Javan rhinos are one of only two populations of the species left on Earth. Official estimates say there are fewer than 60 Javan rhinos left. The largest population of approximately 40-60 is found in Ujung Kulon National Park, Java, Indonesia. There are no Javan rhinos in captivity in the world.
“This is a devastating development for the long term prospects of this critically endangered species,” said Barney Long, WWF Senior Program Officer for Asian Species. “This loss is symbolic of the grim situation facing Vietnam’s many endangered species, including rhinos, elephants, tigers and the saola. We hope it triggers a response from the government of Vietnam to invest the required resources into saving its globally outstanding biodiversity.”
Local people first reported finding the body of a large mammal to National Park authorities on April 29. A forest patrol team was immediately deployed to the site, where they confirmed the dead animal was a Javan rhino.
“WWF urges the Vietnamese government to launch an immediate and extensive criminal investigation into this incident,” Long said.
It is a criminal offense under Vietnamese law to trade, use or consume any part of an endangered animal such as the Javan rhino. Those convicted of this crime can face imprisonment and large fines.
Rhino poaching worldwide hit a 15-year high in 2009. The illegal trade is driven by an Asian demand for horns, made worse by increasingly sophisticated poachers. Vietnam was highlighted as a country of particular concern at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in March. Vietnamese nationals operating in South Africa have recently been identified in rhino crime investigations.
WWF recently finished a field survey using highly trained sniffer dogs from the US to locate rhino dung. These dung samples will undergo DNA analysis to determine the exact population status of the species. Results from this study will be available later this year.
WWF will send samples taken from the dead rhino to Queen’s University in Canada for analysis to see if the DNA of the dead rhino matches any of the dung samples taken during the population status survey.
Photos of the dead Javan rhino, along with a photo of a live rhino taken in 2005, can be downloaded by contacting Lee Poston at 202-299-6442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.