The resilience of the Javan Rhinoceros has a sealed fate



by LORENZO CIOTTI

The resilience of the Javan Rhinoceros has a sealed fate

Even the most optimistic estimates seem to indicate that fewer than 100 Javan rhinos remain in the wild. They are considered one of the most threatened species in the world. The Javan rhino now survives in only one location, the Ujung Kulon National Park on the western tip of Java.

The main cause of the continued decline of the Javan rhino population has been poaching for horn, a problem that affects all rhino species. Horns have been traded for more than 2,000 years in China, where they are believed to have medicinal properties.

In historical times, rhino skin was used to make armor for Chinese soldiers, while some indigenous tribes in Vietnam believed that the skin could be used to create an antidote for snake venom.

Since the rhino's range covers extremely poor areas, it has been difficult to convince local populations not to kill a seemingly useless animal from which large sums of money could be made.

When the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species came into force in 1975, the Javan rhinoceros was immediately placed under the total protection guaranteed by Appendix I; any type of trade involving Javan rhinos or products derived from them is illegal.

Investigations into the price of rhino horn on the black market have determined that Asian rhino horn can fetch up to $30,000 per kilogram, three times the value of African rhino horn.

The resilience of the Javan Rhinoceros has a sealed fate

Like many other representatives of Asian and African megafauna, the Javan rhino has been hunted incessantly for decades as a big game trophy following the arrival of Europeans in its range.

Since the rhino is an easy target, big game hunting has had as much of an impact on its decline as poaching for its horn. The damage caused by big game hunting was so extensive that when the serious situation of the rhino became evident to the world, only the populations of Java and Vietnam remained.

Habitat destruction to make way for agriculture has also contributed to the decline of the species, but this factor has long ceased to pose a threat, as rhinos now live only within the confines of a strictly protected national park.

Habitat deterioration has hampered the recovery of poaching rhino populations.

Despite all the efforts of conservationists, the prospects for the survival of the species are grim. Since the entire population is confined to a small area, rhinos are very susceptible to disease and inbred depression.

According to estimates by conservation geneticists, a population of at least 100 rhinos would be necessary to preserve the genetic diversity of this species so closely dependent on conservation programs.