Javanese Rhino Fate Depends on Volcano

Javanese Rhino

It recently came to our attention that three of the world’s population of no more than 60 Javanese rhinos have died. 

The Javanese rhino was once the most widespread of all species of rhino, ranging from Java as far as the Eastern provinces of India.  Today they survive in two pockets, one in Vietnam, which hosts less than eight, the other in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park where perhaps 50 survive.  One of the dead rhinos was from the Vietnamese group, it was poached for its horn (the horns are used as an ingredient in Chinese herbal medicine).  The other two died of natural causes in the Indonesian reserve, their complete skeletons were found in separate locations.

 The main reason these rhinos no longer inhabit most of South East Asia is because of the loss of their habitat, which is low lying jungle.  The Vietnam War also caused huge deforestation and also the wholesale scattering of land mines.  It also put guns in the hands of every villager.  The rhinos living in Java itself were more fortunate, although they also suffered from loss of habitat and hunting.

After the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in 1883, much of the Ujung Kulon peninsula was devastated and the human population was evacuated.  This allowed wildlife there to quickly flourish and Javanese rhinos colonised the area as their mainland habitat was continuing to shrink.  The government of the time sealed the peninular and declared it a national park and so the rhinos living there were protected.

A survey in the 1960s found 25 Javanese rhinos living in the Ujung Kulon peninsula and by 1980 the population had risen to about 50.  Since then the numbers have been stable.  The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) believes the park could support greater numbers, but the rhinos compete for food with native buffalos.

While the surviving rhino community seems safe enough for now, they really have all their eggs in one basket.  It would only take another unfortunately placed eruption or a tsunami to effectively exterminate the last of these creatures.  The Indonesian government and conservationists are talking about building an electrified fence to enclose a second area nearby which would house part of the existing population. 

The Javanese rhinoceros is not thought to be naturally agressive, but it has been known to attack if it feels threatened.  When this happens, it charges using the incisor teeth on its lower jaw, which are long and sharp and then strikes upwards with its horn.  Normally the horn is used for scraping away mud to form its wallows or for bringing down saplings to eat or for clearing paths through the jungle.

Very little is known about this species of rhino, naturalists are cautious about disturbing them for study for fear that it will affect their habits.  But some less intrusive study is being undertaken now with one group about to set up camera traps in their habitat, so we can expect to learn more about the Javanese rhino in the coming months.


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