October 25th, 2011 by Rhishja Cota-Larson
WWF and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) have confirmed the extinction of the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) in Vietnam.
On April 29th, 2010, the body of a female Javan rhino was found in Cat Tien National Park.
DNA analyses conducted at Queen’s University, Canada, determined that the dung samples collected during a 2009/2010 WWF survey belonged to one rhino.
It was the worst possible outcome: The samples matched those taken from the dead rhino.
Traditional medicine trade
Vietnam’s “uncontrolled illegal wildlife trade” and “inadequate protection” led to the extinction of the country’s rhinos, according to a new report released by WWF.
The “increasing demand for wildlife in the traditional medicine trade” in Vietnam, China, and other Asian countries has decimated Southeast Asia’s wildlife populations, and is responsible for killing Vietnam’s last rhino.
Rhino horn is a sought-after ingredient for traditional Chinese medicine, despite the fact it has been rigorously analyzed and contains no medicinal properties. Earlier this year, the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine and TCM educators spoke out against the continued use of rhino horn.
Lack of political will
The Vietnamese government also contributed to the tragedy by demonstrating “insufficient political support” for protecting its critically endangered rhino population and focusing its funding on “infrastructure development”.
Urban development, conversion to agricultural land, park encroachment by settlers, and explosive human population growth proved to be ongoing issues that were never adequately addressed. By 2010, the range of the Javan rhino in Vietnam decreased to just 6,500ha from 75,000ha in 1988.
Additionally, there was “little or no accountability” within Vietnam’s current protected area management system, which includes rangers, their managers, and protected area managers.
Although once thought to be extinct, Vietnam’s Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus was rediscovered in 1988.
The small population was estimated at no more than 15 rhinos. Sufficient habitat was available and it was hoped that these rhinos would make a recovery similar to the Southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) and the greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis ) – both of which were on the brink of extinction 100 years ago.
However, by 2006, probably only three Javan rhinos remained in Vietnam. Despite years of valid recommendations from conservation groups, implementation and law enforcement were both lacking in Cat Tien National Park.
WWF’s report called the Javan rhino’s extinction in Vietnam “a major conservation failure”.
Three subspecies of Javan rhino once existed. Rhinoceros sondaicus inermis, which formerly occurred in northeastern India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, is already extinct.
The extinction of Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus leaves just one Javan rhino subspecies (Rhinoceros sondaicus sondiacus), found only in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park.
There are now less than 50 Javan rhinos remaining on Earth.
Source: Brook, S., Van Coeverden de Groot, P., Mahood, S. “Extinction of the Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus).” 2011. WWF-Vietnam.
Photos provided by & © WWF-Greater Mekong.
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