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New discoveries propel investigation of rare Javan rhino death

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© WWF Vietnam
A Javan rhino photographed in Cat Tien National Park, December 2005.

Significant findings have come to light in the ongoing investigation into the suspected poaching of a Javan rhino in Vietnam’s Cat Tien National Park, perhaps the last of its kind.

An analysis of the photographic evidence and information was conducted by Craig Bruce, WWF’s Protected Area and Enforcement Specialist. Based on the photographs, he offered the following conclusions:

“The enlarged photograph and statements from those on the scene is evidence that this rhino was seriously wounded. A fairly heavy caliber bullet seems to be lodged in the bone, this could certainly not be considered a flesh wound.

“I have managed large rhino populations for over a decade and been at the scene of a variety of natural and unnatural rhino deaths.  Despite the age of the discovered carcass, the bullet lodged in the bone and the harvested horn are clear indicators that this rhino was poached for its horn.

“In my experience opportunistically harvested horn is very rare and 98% of the time a rhino found with a horn removed has been killed by poachers for that horn. Cut marks on the skull indicate that someone was there with the right tool prepared and ready to remove a rhino horn.

“It is not atypical for a rhino to be shot many times in a poaching incident, the deteriorated carcass unfortunately would not have allowed the rangers on site to confirm this but it is certainly common. The evidence we have of one wound is in all probability one of many.

“It is finally therefore highly likely that this rhino was poached for its horn.
WWF urges the Vietnamese government to conduct a full investigation and bring the perpetrators, of both the shooting and the likely illegal trading of the horn, to justice under the Vietnamese legal system.”

Ballistic analysis of the bullet found in the rhino’s leg is said to be underway by government authorities.

Rhino horn is a highly valued commodity in the illegal wildlife trade. Rhino skin and feces are also used for alleged medicinal purposes. Vietnamese law protects the rhino. Hunting, catching, keeping, slaughtering, trading, or transporting rhinos, parts of rhino, or any items containing rhino is strictly prohibited.

The Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Three different subspecies are recognized. The most abundant subspecies (R. sondaicus sondaicus) lives only in Ujung Kulon National Park, Java, Indonesia, with approximately 40 to 60 individuals remaining. The subspecies once found in Bengal, Assam, and Myanmar (R. sondicus inermis) is now extinct. The third subspecies (R. sondaicus annamiticus) survives only in Vietnam. There are no Javan rhinos in captivity in the world.

Learn more:

  • Javan Rhinos
  • Wildlife Trade