In two pockets of dense tropical rainforest separated by thousands of miles lives one of the largest terrestrial mammals on Earth, yet few people are even aware it exists. Unfortunately for this creature, this lack of familiarity also means that few people realize that it is one of the most endangered animals in the world.
The Javan Rhinoceros, Rhinoceros sondaicus, doesn’t exactly stick out like the rhinos we picture roaming the savannahs of Africa. For an animal that is over ten feet long and that can weigh up to two tons, this rhino species is incredibly elusive. Travelling on trails that cut tunnels through thick vegetation, the rhinos spend their time between their choice feeding sites, salt licks, and mud wallows.
Both male and female Javan Rhinos maintain a territory that is marked by way of urine and feces. However, when it’s hot and the bugs are biting, a choice mud wallow is fair game for any rhinos that happen upon it, regardless of whose territory it belongs to. For most of the year, life is pretty plain, simple, and carefree for these large creatures since the adults have no natural predators, even though the females of this particular rhino species almost never have horns.
During the breeding season, though, these normally solitary animals link up with the opposite sex in order to mate and pass their unique genetic code on to the next generation. Sadly, it appears that “next generation” may not apply with Javan Rhinoceroses for very much longer.
Like so many other creatures on this planet, the Javan Rhino has seen its range shrink massively over time. It was once possible to see this species throughout Southeast Asia, from China to the entire island of Java in Indonesia. Today, two national parks are all that remain of the once-extensive natural habitat of this animal. One population of less than ten rhinos inhabits Cat Tien National Park in the mountains of central Vietnam while the other population of about fifty rhinos lives in Ujung Kulon National Park on the very western tip of Java. Southeast Asian large mammals are almost universally rare due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and it’s getting worse as time goes on.
Much of the unprotected lowland forest in Indonesia has been logged and, in some places, logging companies even have their eyes set on trees located within national parks! As if this isn’t enough, the Vietnam War must have absolutely devastated this species in Vietnam due to the extensive napalm use in the region where the rhino still ekes out an existence today. Unfortunately for the Javan Rhinoceros, the threats to its continued existence on the planet don’t stop at habitat destruction and war.
Some people in the world believe that rhino horn has medicinal properties (it’s really as medicinal as eating your fingernails) and, for this reason, all rhino species on Earth today are threatened with extinction. The Javan Rhinoceros luckily lives only in national parks at this point but, even inside their boundaries, it can not escape the large sum put on its head by poachers.
Just last May, one of the less than ten rhinos remaining in Vietnam was found killed with its horn brutally chopped off. The rhinos in Vietnam may represent a new subspecies but the world may never find out since it is believed that this population is beyond salvation.
Poachers continue to enter Ujung Kulon National Park in Java but, thankfully, the elusive habits of the species in this large, dense forest have managed to thwart many of their efforts. With the low genetic diversity of both populations of this creature, every individual rhino counts and the loss of even a few could mean the population may never recover. Just think: there are probably more people parked around you at a busy intersection’s red light than the entire remaining population of this rhino species.
Organizations such as the International Rhino Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund are working hard to protect this rhino species and the other unique animals that share its habitat. These organizations, as well as the governments of Vietnam and Indonesia, should be praised for their work in protecting this fascinating creature that still manages to inhabit the Earth right beneath our noses despite its large size and alarming potential for extinction in the near future.
By educating people who still believe in using rhino horn for medicine and creating an overall awareness of this animal, one that needs our help so badly, it’s still possible to save it. But this needs to happen fast, for the Javan Rhinoceros is running out of time.
Ellis, Richard. Tiger Bone & Rhino Horn: the Destruction of Wildlife for Traditional
Chinese Medicine. Washington: Island, 2005. Print.
“Javan Rhino.” Javan Rhino. International Rhino Foundation. Web. 2 Feb. 2011.
“Javan Rhino.” Javan Rhino. The Rhino Resource Center. Web. 2 Feb. 2011.