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Baby boom for world’s rarest rhino species

Press release from World Wildlife Fund | September 02, 2006

Jakarta, Indonesia/Gland, Switzerland - Scientists have found signs of four Javan rhinos born in recent weeks in Indonesia, a surprising baby boom for a species that may be reduced to fewer than 60 individuals worldwide.
"Javan rhinos are probably the rarest large mammal species in the world and they are on the very brink of extinction, to discover that this population is breeding, and even slowly growing, gives us hope for the species' future."
- Arman Malolongan, Director General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation at Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry


Signs of the rhino calves were discovered in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park by a team of biologists, including park rangers and WWF staff, and local people checking on the rhinos after the recent earthquake on the island of Java. These are the first known births for the Javan rhinos in three years.

"Javan rhinos are probably the rarest large mammal species in the world and they are on the very brink of extinction," said Arman Malolongan, Director General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation at Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry.

"To discover that this population is breeding, and even slowly growing, gives us hope for the species' future."

Javan rhinos are the rarest of the world's five rhino species and are critically endangered. It is estimated that between 28 and 56 Javan rhinos live in Ujung Kulon. The only other known population is in Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam, where no more than eight rhinos are thought to survive.

The team found the first sign of a calf a few weeks ago, with the discovery of a small footprint (about 16-17 cm) along with a larger footprint belonging to the mother. One day after this first discovery, another set of mother and calf footprints of slightly different size was found in a different area. Both signs were estimated to be three days old or less. On the same day, a second team came face-to-face with a mother and female calf. And the following day, the team found a fourth small footprint in a different location.

Because of the distance between the four areas where the discoveries were made and the differences in the size of the footprints, the team concluded they are evidence of four different calves.

"Javan rhinos live deep inside the rainforest and it's very unusual to catch a glimpse of them," said Adhi Rahmat Hariyadi, WWF-Indonesia Site Manager in Ujung Kulon National Park.

"Our team was lucky to actually be able to observe a mother and calf in the Ujung Kulon Peninsula while checking camera traps installed in the area."

WWF and park staff hope to capture photos of the newborns from remote-triggered camera traps used to monitor the rhinos.

With this new evidence that the Javan rhino population in Ujung Kulon is breeding, WWF recommends that the park authorities find ways to reduce the main threats to this rare species, such as habitat and food competition with wild cattle within the park, and invasive vegetation that limits the expansion of the rhinos' favoured food sources. WWF also calls for the establishment of a second population of Javan rhinos outside the park to protect the species from disease or natural disasters that could wipe out the entire population.


editors note * WWF-Indonesia has been working on Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) conservation since 1962 when Dr Rudolph Schenkel studied many aspects of the rhinos' behaviour, distribution and biology. Over the years the species has faced many threats such as poaching, shrinking habitats and catastrophes like the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in 1883. At a certain point in the past century, there were only 25 individuals left in the wild. Today, competition for food and space is an enormous challenge facing the Javan rhino. The animals have to share the Ujung Kulon National Park with wild cattle, and their habitat is under threat by an invasive palm species.

* Through the work of WWF-Indonesia and the Ujung Kulon National Park Authority, effective law enforcement in Ujung Kulon National Park has resulted in the complete elimination of rhino poaching since the early 1990s. This has enabled the rhino population to reach its current numbers.

* WWF-Indonesia has also started extensive research on the Javan rhino and collected information on population size, age and sex distribution. DNA analysis from dung samples has revealed important information on the population's genetic diversity. Camera traps were installed to collect photo evidence of individual animals, their size, age distribution, sex and health.

For further information:
Desmarita Murni, Species Communications Officer
WWF-Indonesia
Tel: +62 811793458
Email: dmurni@wwf.or.id

Joanna Benn, Communications Manager
WWF Global Species Programme
Tel: +39 06 84 497 212
Email: benn@wwfspecies.org

Olivier van Bogaert, Senior Press Officer
WWF International
Tel: +41 22 364 9554
Email: ovanbogaert@wwfint.org

Article has been adapted from a news release issued by World Wildlife Fund. Click here for the original news release.

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