It appears the last wild Javan Rhino in Vietnam was taken by poachers for its horn. Officials believed there might have been one left, based on various signs they observed, but it went missing for a time, and later a body was found after it had died from a gunshot wound. The horn had been removed. Since the death of the rhino, suspected to be the last one, no fresh dung piles have been observed. (The rhino’s death took place in 2010, yet the confirmation of the species extinction just occurred.) If this information sounds confusing, that has been the nature of the situation. In 1988 Javan rhinos were re-discovered in Vietnam after it was assumed they had all been lost. At that time there may have been about twelve. By 2006 poaching and habitat loss had reduced them to just about three.
The World Wildlife Fund wrote, “Vietnam is facing an extinction crisis due to the largely uncontrolled illegal wildlife trade and rampant, ubiquitous poaching of wildlife. Current protected area management practices and conservation interventions have proved inadequate for dealing with this threat. The extinction of the Javan rhinoceros from Vietnam is a direct result of this inadequate protection and protected area management from all parties involved in its conservation.” (Source: Rhinoconservation.org)
Rhino horn has zero medical benefits, yet continues to command high prices for consumers in Asia who very mistakenly believe the traditional view it does have value for treating health conditions. They not only are killing many innocent animals, they are wasting their own money and endangering their own health, because they could be seeking treatment that actually works.
The Vietnamese rhinos lived in a park, but it is surrounded by people living in poverty, so killing wild animals for quick cash is very difficult for conservation officials to prevent. There also might have been little overall concern for the last one as conservation of wildlife is not exactly the highest priority in a broader culture that uses animals for traditional medicine. Wildlife trafficking in Asia is have a horrendous impact on animals there.
It appears now the only strategy that might have saved the last several Vietnamese Javan rhinos would have been to capture and transport them out of their natural habitat and put them in a heavily fortified animal park with armed guards. The problem with this strategy is that those type of rhinos apparently don’t do well in captivity, in addition to the high cost. Still, we have plenty of proof now that some poachers do not care if they drive a species into extinction, and drastic measures are the only option left in some cases.
The last wild Javan rhinos live in Indonesia with a very small population of just 27-60. If they aren’t fiercely protected they might end up wiped by poachers as well. Some people don’t like the idea of cloning, but another option is to gather DNA samples from some of the world’s last remaining wild animals before they are wiped out, so there might still be a chance they can be grown from cells in labs later.
Image Credit: Hoogerwerf, Andries