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SOS Rhino : In the News : Seven rare Javan rhinos fight extinction in Cat Tien Park

Seven rare Javan rhinos fight extinction in Cat Tien Park

  Vietnam News, Vietnam
Thursday, June 24, 2004

HA NOI „ When the elusive Javan rhino, which for 40 years was thought to be extinct, was caught on camera in 1999 in south Viet NamÍs Cat Tien National Park, it captured the worldÍs attention and offered environmentalists a reason to hope that the speciesÍ plight could be reversed.

Five years on, the worldÍs rarest large animal continues to command attention, although not enough to save it from the threat of extinction. According to surveys carried out by staff of the park, which is in Dong Nai Province, there are only seven of the rhinos left in Cat Tien.

"The rhinos are more endangered than we thought," said David Murphy of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indochina. "You donÍt want to get any rarer than that. More worryingily, they donÍt appear to be breeding."

Studies and ongoing monitoring by a special patrol unit set up by the park indicate that 5,000ha of protected rhino habitat, which the park says is already too small to begin with, is being disturbed by the activities of landless migrants, illegal loggers and hunters.

The parkÍs rhinos, which make up one of just two populations anywhere in the world, are possibly the most endangered species on the globe, according to the WWF.

The situation is so critical that conservationists and government officials met to discuss the topic at a seminar to review the recently-concluded Cat Tien National Park Conservation Project, WWF IndochinaÍs largest-ever project of this type.

The Javan rhino and its Sumatran cousin were once common throughout Viet Nam. However, the Sumatran rhino had disappeared from Viet Nam by the early 20th century and the Javan rhino was erroneously thought to be extinct by mid-century.

What the surviving rhinos of Cat Tien need desperately is more land, said Ina Becker of WWF Indochina. Even more essential is that people and their livestock do not disturb the rhinoÍs habitat, she said.

Through a rhino education programme implemented by WWF staff, local people have become aware of the importance of the rhino and have offered help, she said. Farmers have given up some of their fields to allow rhinos easy access to salt licks, and old fields have been abandoned so that rhinos can wallow in mud. Villagers have also helped to carry out surveys, said Becker.

Local people are uniquely suited to help because they know the forest well and are good at tracking footprints and dung droppings, which they report to local park rangers, said Becker. Villagers have also helped scientists and park staff identify plants eaten by the rhinos, which they then plant in the rhinoÍs habitat, she said.

Despite this progress, people who live too close to the rhinos need to be resettled in other areas, said Becker.

The Javan rhino is not the only rare species struggling to survive in Cat Tien.

The park is home to rare pheasants, waterbirds, gibbons, douc langurs, and small herds of gaur.

Efforts to reverse the loss of at least one endangered species, the Siamese crocodile, have met some success.

Siamese crocs were once numerous in Cat Tien until hunters killed nearly all of them for their skins and breeding stock. Now they are the most critically endangered crocodile in the world.

Recently, 60 of the crocodiles identified by their DNA as pure Siamese, were released back into Cat TienÍs wetlands under the watchful eye of park rangers. Poaching is still a problem but, according to Murphy, the "future looks good" for those that have been reintroduced to the wild. „ VNS

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