In 1999, the first known images of Vietnam's Javan rhinos were captured in camera traps supported by WWF, proving without question that this species was not extinct in mainland Southeast Asia as was once believed.
© WWF Greater Mekong
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Now WWF and our partners are furthering the quest for Javan rhino using an innovative new tool – dung-sniffing dogs. Trained in the US and Vietnam, the canine duo Chevvy and Pepper are a vital part in getting accurate information on the last of the Javan rhinos in Vietnam.
Yes, there are Javan rhinos in southern Vietnam. It’s just a different sub-species and in numbers so low, less than 10, that conservationists are seriously concerned about its future. Classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus are found in the Cat Tien National Park which is also home to other species like the gaur, orange-necked partridge, white-winged duck, and Siamese crocodile.
Roughly around 180,000 acres, this park is surrounded by a sea of people. A population of over a quarter of million live in the buffer zone around Cat Tien National Park. The surrounding area was badly defoliated during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s and continues to lose natural forest cover at a shocking rate due to the expansion of agriculture, mainly cashew nut plantations.
The Javan rhino is a highly valued commodity in the illegal wildlife trade, with the rhino horn, skin and faeces used for medicinal purposes. Habitat encroachment from agricultural expansion and planned hydropower development also pose increasing threats to this small population.
WWF researchers have teamed up with national park rangers to determine the number and sex ratio of Javan rhinos remaining in the Cat Loc sector inside the national park. Samples of the dung sniffed out by the specially trained dogs will be sent to Queen’s University in Canada where DNA analysis will detect the sex and number of animals. The Zoological Society of London will carry out a hormone analysis to show if any females are reproductively receptive; something never tried with wild Javan rhino dung samples before.
WWF and the Vietnamese government are working together to preserve the last of Vietnam’s Javan rhinos. Thanks to WWF’s efforts, the park is now benefiting from increased management and protection, biological monitoring and research, redrawn park boundaries, and the involvement of the local community in understanding and recognizing their unique environmental inheritance.
Cat Tien National Park, US Fish and Wildlife Service, WWF US, WWF Austria, WWF International – AREAS Programme, Queen’s University Canada, Zoological Society of London, Packleader LLC, Asian Rhino Project