Javan Rhinoceros - A Critically Endangered Species
The Javan rhino is one of the most critically endangered species in the world with as little as approximately 35 existing in the wild in protected areas. They live in the tropical forests and are the most endangered of the 5 most threatened rhino species in the world.
Javan Rhinos were studied first by naturalists in 1787. The skulls of two rhinos that were shot in Java were sent to the Dutch Naturalist Petrus Camper who identified this as a distinct species. He died before publishing his research. Another javan rhino that was shot in Sumatra was sent to Georges Cuvier, who was a French Scientist. He recognised this as a distinct species in 1822. Later on it was identified by Anselme Gaetan Desmarest in 1822 itself as Rhinoceros sondaicus.
Sondacius refers to the Sunda (Java) islands
From Greek Dictionary:
“Rhino” means “Nose”
“Ceros” means “Horn”
Abbreviations and explanation of terms:
CITES - Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species
WWF – World Wildlife Fund
IRF - International Rhino Foundation
AREAS - Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy
FSC - Forest Stewardship Council
The scientific name for the Javan Rhino is Rhinoceros sondaicus
Scientific Classification (Taxonomy):
Species: R. Sondaicus
Characteristics and behaviour of the Javan Rhinos:
- The Javan rhinos are dark grey or greyish brown in colour.
- They have a single horn that grows up to a maximum length of 25 cm and is made of keratin. They use their horns to scrap mud in wallows, to pull down plants or shrubs or twigs or branches and to clear paths through vegetation.
- Their upper lips are pointed, helping them with grabbing the food easily.
- They have long and sharp incisors in the lower jaw and are known to use their teeth while fighting.
- They have poor vision and hence use the sense of smell and hearing to detect food, other rhinos and threats.
- They have three toes in their feet and can run up to a speed of 30 mph
- They have a number of loose folds on their skin which look like armour plating. These loose folds are found on the shoulders, back and rump.
- They resemble the greater rhinoceros, but have a relatively smaller head and less number of folds on the skin than the greater rhinoceros. Their skin is hairless.
- They are smaller in size than the Indian rhino and closely equal in size to the black rhino. They grow up to a height of 1.4 to 1.7 m and weigh between 900 and 2300 kg. Their length is 2 to 4 m. Females may be slightly bigger than the males.
- They are solitary and meet only for breeding and while looking after the calves. They rarely get together in groups at mud wallows. They wallow in the mud to cool down their body temperature and to get rid of parasitic infection. It is also believed to prevent disease.
- The Javan rhinos prefer to use wallows dug by other animals or use natural pits for wallowing.
- They visit salt licks and this provides essential nutrients to the Javan rhinos as they require salt in their diet.
- Their territories range from 12 to 20 kilometres square for males and 3 to 14 kilometres square for females. The territories sometimes overlap and are marked with dung piles and urine spraying.
- They avoid humans and if humans approach, they become aggressive and can attack.
- They live for approximately 30 to 45 years in the wild and the only predators for the adult rhinos are the humans while the calves could be hunted by large wild cats
Rare Javan Rhinos Filmed
Habitat and food of the Javan Rhinos:
- The Javan rhinos live in the tropical forests. They once used to live in the lowlands of the rain forests, grasslands, reed beds, wet areas with mud wallows and large flood plains and existed in North-East India (Assam and Bengal), in the Sunderbans, in South-east Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Combodia, Vietnam, Laos), China and Sumatra.
- There are now just 35 to 40 of these rhinos living in the Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia.
- They are herbivores and eat different species of plants, shoots, twigs, tender foliage and fruits fallen on the ground. They mostly eat plants that grow in sunny areas where there are no large trees.
- It is a browser and sometimes a grazer and eats approximately 50 kg food a day. They need salt in their diet and hence visit salt licks or drink sea water.
Reproduction in Javan Rhinos:
- Very little information is available about the breeding process for these species as there has been no breeding in captivity and also because of their limited number in population. Also researchers do not interact much with these animals for fear of threatening them.
- It is suggested or believed that the females may mature when they are 5 to 6 years old and the males when they are 10 years old.
- Mating season may be from July to November and the gestation period is believed to be around 16 months, very similar to the greater one horned rhino.
- The mature females give birth to a calf once every three years and look suckle them for one to 2 years. They look after the calves till they become independent.
Importance of the Javan Rhinos:
They help in dispersing the fruits and to maintain a healthy ecosystem.
Main threats and endangerment of the Javan Rhinos:
- Natural catastrophes like earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis have killed so many Javan rhinos in the past and they are still a threat to these rhinos. Ujung Kulon National Park is highly vulnerable to tsunamis and this is the only place where the Javan rhinos exist in the world as one population.
- Diseases can kill them easily because of less genetic variation due to inbreeding and poaching is another serious issue.
- Inbreeding makes it hard for the species to remain feasible.
- In the past these rhinos were killed as part of trophy hunting and were also killed as agricultural pests
- These rhinos were killed for their horns for traditional Chinese medicine
- A major explosion of the Anak Krakatau volcano could wipe off all life in the protected areas of the Ujung Kulon national park.
Vietnamese Javan Rhino - Road to Extinction
- Arenga palm is a native but invasive species that has taken over the rhino habitat thereby leaving very less food for the rhinos.
- A few rhinos have recently died from a disease that spread from wild cattle.
- If we lose the population that exists only in Indonesia, we will lose the species completely and they will become extinct.
- Loss of habitat due to wars - especially the Vietnam War (aerial bombing, land mines) led to decline of these species and eventually extinction. The wars also prevented the recovery of the species as inexpensive weapons were available for villagers to carry out poaching easily.
- Human settlements in China destroyed the Javan rhino habitat and also there was loss of habitat due to agriculture, commercial logging
- These rhinos were hunted down to extinction in the Malay Peninsula.
- Horns have been part of hugely traded goods in China for more than 2000 years for use in medicines and their hides were used as armour by Chinese soldiers.
- Areas surrounding the national park where they live now are under immense danger from human activities.
Conservation efforts taken for the Javan Rhinos:
- WWF along with its partnership organisations is working towards seeking agreements and political approvals to translocate the rhinos from Ujung Kulon National Park to another suitable habitat in Indonesia. This will provide a safe and healthy habitat for the Javan Rhinos away from the threat of natural disasters. This will also help towards two different rhino populations instead of the one now which will help with healthy breeding.
- WWF is also conducting research on the Javan rhino to study its behaviour, distribution, genetic diversity, gender ratio etc., as very little is known about these mammals
- Camera traps are fitted to monitor their movements, behaviour and habitat.
- WWF is also working towards removing the Arenga palm (Arenga pinnata) which has occupied the areas of rhino’s food sources and to increase patrols for anti-poaching.
- Plans are being designed to build fences that will keep livestock away from the food sources of the rhino.
- Research is done from data collected using camera traps and faecal samples and these are used for an estimated study of health and behaviour.
- The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Flora and Fauna has made all international trade of Javan rhino and its products illegal.
- A rhino breeding sanctuary in a 38,000 hectares area of land has been established to bring the population of Javan rhinos up to 70 or 80, by the year 2015
- An extra 120 video cameras were installed in April 2012 by the WWF and IRF to monitor the Javan rhinos.
- WWF along with other wildlife conservationists are planting the food that the Javan rhinos eat and are taking steps in helping the rhinos find unrelated mates.
- WWF launched the AREAS in 1998 to deal with issues related to habitat loss.
Rare Rhino Calves Seen on Hidden Camera
Facts about the Javan Rhinos:
- A population of these Javan Rhinos that existed in the Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam were confirmed to be extinct in 2011.
- Indonesia has been legally protecting the Javan Rhinos since 1931
- They are one of the rarest mammals in the world.
- The only group of Javan rhinos left in the world are found in Indonesia.
- The Javan Rhino horns had a high value of around US$30,000 for a kilogram in the black market.
- Footage from a camera trap that was released in February 2011 that showed two adult rhinos with their calves, which gives hopes that this species is still breeding.
- Another footage was released by the national parks authority in April 2012, that showed 35 individual Javan rhinos, including some calves.
Javan Rhinos in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon
- Photographs and footprints studies provide evidence that the rhinos in Sumatra were smaller than the ones in Java.
- There are no Javan Rhinos in captivity. There were a few Javan rhinos in captivity in the 19th century and they all lived only up to an age of 20 years which is much less compared to the age that they survive in the wild.
- Recent research suggests that the horn may be very small or absent in female Javan rhinos.
- The longest horn ever recorded for a Javan rhino is 27 cm long and it is now at the British Museum in London.
- The Javan rhinos can go for a few days without drinking water
What can be done to help conserve and protect the Javan Rhinos?
- Please do not buy any rhino products, and make sure you buy synthetic products
- Buy only sustainable wood that are FSC certified and buy only FSC certified forest products.
- Purchase only certified sustainable palm oil.
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