Javan Rhino Programs Indonesia
Indonesia’s remote Ujung Kulon National Park holds the only viable population of the Critically Endangered Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus). No more than an estimated 44 Javan rhinos remain on the planet, and surveys and other data suggest that only 4-5 females are still breeding. Evidence suggests that the species has recently been extirpated in Vietnam, where the last individual was poached in May 2010.
The breeding population of Javan rhinos occupies primarily the western half of Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP), and thus is susceptible to catastrophic losses from disease or natural disasters. Although the population is believed to be stable, it likely has reached its carrying capacity in the current habitat and probably cannot grow any larger without intervention.
International Rhino Foundation and Asian Rhino Project funded Rhino Protection Units have kept the Ujung Kulon population safe from poaching. However, protection in itself isn’t going to be enough to save the species from extinction. Over the long-term, the population needs to be spread out, with a second viable population established elsewhere in Indonesia. The first step towards accomplishing this goal is to create conditions that will allow the existing population to expand by increasing the habitat available in eastern UKNP (in the Gunung Honje area).
Over the past year, IRF, through its implementing partner Yayasan Badak Indonesia (Rhino Foundation of Indonesia) and supported by the Asian Rhino Project, Save the Rhino International, WWF, and other donors, has been working to expand the useable habitat for Javan rhinos in UKNP by creating the 4,000 hectare Javan Rhino Study and Conservation Area (JRSCA). The project intensifies active management in Gunung Honje (in the eastern portion of the park), with the short-term objective of providing more habitat to allow the population to increase. We are doing this by constructing small bridges, an electric fence, and a patrol road; eradicating invasive species which have taken over a good portion of the habitat; planting rhino food plants; providing a water supply and saltlick; and constructing additional guard posts. The continued survival of the Javan rhino depends on their population increasing in numbers as rapidly as possible, and in spreading the population out so that "all the eggs are not in one basket". The JRSCA eventually will serve as a "staging ground" from which translocations to a second site can occur.
The Javan rhinoceros is extinct in Vietnam
By WWF and the International Rhino Foundation October 2011
WWF and the International Rhino Foundation have confirmed the extinction of the Javan rhinoceros from Vietnam. Genetic analysis of 22 dung samples collected by a Cat Tien National Park and WWF survey team from 2009 - 2010, confirmed that all of the samples belonged to 1 individual rhinoceros; the same individual that was found dead in the national park in April 2010 shortly after the survey was completed.
The WWF report concluded that as the rhino was found dead with a bullet in its leg and the horn removed, it was a clear case of poaching. Furthermore, the genetic analysis conducted by Queen’s University, Canada, revealed that there were at least 2 rhinos alive when dung samples had been collected in 2004.
“The last Javan rhino on mainland Asia mainland has gone.” said Tran Thi Minh Hien, WWF Vietnam Country Director. “It is painful that despite significant investment in the Vietnamese rhino population, we were not able to conserve this unique animal. We have lost part of our natural heritage...”
The rhinoceros was believed to be extinct from mainland Asia until 1988 when an individual was hunted from the Cat Tien area and a small population was confirmed. From the mid-1990’s a number of organizations were heavily involved in efforts to conserve the Javan rhino population in Cat Tien National Park, but the report highlights that ineffective protection was ultimately the cause of the extinction. This is a common problem in most protected areas in Vietnam that threatens the survival of many other species, says WWF.
Illegal hunting to supply the wildlife trade has reduced many species in Vietnam to small and isolated populations. The tiger, Asian elephant and endemic species like the Saola, Tonkin snub-nosed monkey and Siamese crocodile are on the verge of extinction in Vietnam. “The tragedy of the Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros is a sad symbol of this extinction crisis”, said Nick Cox, Manager of WWF’s Species Programme in the Greater Mekong. “The single most important action to conserve Vietnam’s endangered species is protection in their natural habitat to deter poaching and illegal wildlife trade”.
Furthermore, WWF recognises the role that habitat loss played in sealing the fate of the rhino in Vietnam. They warn that along with inadequate law enforcement and ineffective protected area management in Vietnam, encroachment and infrastructure development occurring within and close to Vietnam’s protected areas will only exert additional pressures on these already fragile populations.
“Reintroduction of the rhinoceros to Vietnam is not economically or practically feasible. It is almost certainly gone from Vietnam forever”, said Christy Williams, WWF’s Asian Elephant and Rhino Programme Coordinator. The Javan rhinoceros is now confined to one population in a small national park in Indonesia. The species is critically endangered and with demand for rhino horn for the Asian traditional medicine trade increasing every year, protection and expansion of the Indonesian population is the highest priority. “We must make sure that we learn lessons from what happened to the Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam, to ensure that we do not face a similar situation in Indonesia a few years down the line” said Susie Ellis of the International Rhino Foundation.
ARP supported WWF programs in Cat Tien and we are devastated at the loss of this sub-species. ARP, through WWF, supported joint enforcement patrols of local community members and national park staff, to provide improved protection to Javan rhinoceros and other wildlife in Cat Loc, Cat Tien National Park. Over a period of 12 months, the teams removed over 450 snares from the park, about 10% of which were large snares targeted at catching animals such as Gaur, Sambar and perhaps even rhino.
Unfortunately, the implementation of the project by Cat Tien National Park left much to be desired. Patrolling was often not conducted every month and was implemented poorly, with little coverage of the core rhino habitat. The total number of snares removed by the project was only a fraction of the snares remaining in Cat Loc, and therefore a poor measure of the massive hunting pressure this part of the park is under.
Despite several discussions with Cat Tien National Park to try to improve patrolling frequency and coverage, WWF met with little success. Capacity and resources were not the issue, we had the funding and we provided training in patrolling methodology, GPS use, snare removal and data collection. Whilst under the supervision of WWF staff, the rangers performed very well. However, this performance was not maintained without direct supervision from WWF, and patrolling frequency continued to decline over time. In total, only a third of the amount of patrolling originally agreed was actually conducted.
Funds were withdrawn from the project and the unspent portion (approx $2,500AUD) has now been allocated to preserving the remains of the last standing Vietnamese Javan Rhinoceros.