As today is World Rhino day I wanted to return to the topic of rhino conservation. While most bloggers, conservationists, and rhino enthusiasts will focus on Africa’s rhinos due to the current poaching pandemic, I would like to shed some light on the plight of Asian rhinos.

Asia is home to 3 out of the 5 modern species of rhino. But as of December 2010 there were only 3,100 rhinos left in Asia, this is the combined total of all three species. The vast majority, 2,850, of these were Indian rhinos while Sumatran rhinos accounted for roughly 200 individuals and the javan rhino had a mere 50 individuals left. Compare these numbers to Africa’s 4,880 black rhinos and 20,160 white rhinos and one can see the great danger of extinction which Asian rhinos face. However the story of Asia’s rhinos became even more depressing when it was announce that the Javan rhino was now locally extinct in Vietnam due to the poaching of the last rhino on October 25 of 2011.

Indian rhino

While poaching for the Asian black market has played a big role in the demise of Asian rhinos, the biggest factor has been habitat loss. Asia’s exploding human population has led to rapid habitat loss as more and more wild lands are destroyed to make room for humanity our urban sprawl. With the conquest of Malaria back in the 1950s even more land in Nepal and India has been made available to human settlement, precious habitat which was taken from the Indian rhino. Vast areas of forests once inhabited by Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia and Indonesia have been cleared, leaving only small islands of forest in which the rhinos can take refuge. This has exposed them even further to poaching as it is now easier for poachers to locate them in smaller tracts of forest.

Sumatran Rhino

There is hope on the horizon though. Indian rhinos numbered 1,200-1,500 back in 1988 compared to the 2,850 in 2010 as I mentioned earlier. While more data is necessary, they may still be in this upward trend. As for the Javan rhino it still hovers around 50 individuals but major efforts are being taken to conserve them. A team of biologists have been working in the Ujung Kulon National Park promoting conservation of this extremely rare species. They have collecting data on the rhinos within the park as well as fostering good will between local people and the rhinos through community outreach programs in which the biologists and their team have created 3.4 kilometers of piping to bring clean water to the villages and teaching them better farming practices. This good will established between the researchers and locals has been of great benefit to the rhinos as well since the local people can relate this new aid to the presence of rhinos. The team has also proven that the rhinos are still breeding successfully with their capturing of juvenile rhinos on film (which can be seen by following the link to the third reference in the list below).

Javan Rhinos

With their prehistoric looks rhinos are awe inspiring beasts. A world without rhinos is not a world I want to raise children in. Hopefully, with enough international support rhinos can be conserved so that future generations will be able to see rhinos, rather than simply believing rhinos are creatures of legend.

References:

Cohn, Jeffrey. Halting the Rhino’s Demise. Bioscience. 38 (1988): 740-744

Save the Rhino International. http://www.savetherhino.org/eTargetSRINM/site/848/default.aspx

http://wildlifenews.co.uk/2012/boost-for-javan-rhinos-as-juveniles-caught-on-film/

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