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Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) photographed by a camera trap, Ujung Kulon National Park Java, Indonesia © Mike Griffiths / WWF

Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) photographed by a camera trap, Ujung Kulon National Park Java, Indonesia © Mike Griffiths / WWF

Javan rhinos – doing it tough

09 Nov 2017

Keywords
  • land management
  • invasive species
  • rhinoceros
  • threatened species

Imagine your entire world is just 1,206 square kilometres and its shrinking by the minute. You're competing for space and food in one of the most heavily populated places on Earth and there’s a live volcano nearby!

 

Dire straits

Now this would be a desperate situation for any animal, but when you're the Javan rhino and there are just 67 of you left in the world - that's right, 67 - it's absolutely dire. Now found only in Ujung Kulon National Park, on the western tip of Java, this rhino is one of our rarest mammals - and it's hanging on for dear life.

 

Wiped out

Javan rhinos once lived throughout mainland Southeast Asia and on the island of Sumatra. But they fell victim to trophy hunters and poachers, after their horns for use in Traditional Asian Medicine. This wiped out all but the rhinos living in Java.

Now, just one population remains, in one small patch of jungle, which makes this rhino extremely vulnerable to extinction.

Despite the fragility of their future, Javan rhinos are fascinating beasts.

 

A most mysterious species

Firstly, the Javan rhino is much smaller than its African cousin, and grows to just 1.7 metres in height. Its thick, loose folds of grey skin look like armour plating, but this is a shy and secretive animal not known for aggression. It's more likely to flee than attack.

Although we think it can live for 30-40 years, the Javan rhino grows slowly. Adults take up to 10 years to reach maturity and mothers only give birth to calves every 3-5 years. Beyond that, much of the rhino's behaviour remains a mystery.

 

A growing threat

What we do know is that the biggest threat to the rhino today is not from poachers but from a plant. The invasive Arenga palm grows fast, even in low light. It creates a dense canopy that prevents other plants from growing underneath, robbing the rhino of its favourite foods.

The palm now covers almost half of Ujung Kulon National Park and is pushing the rhino into an ever-decreasing area. They are literally starving for lack of food.

 

Crowded home

A tiny population of rhinos living in such a confined area is a recipe for disaster. It leaves them vulnerable to inbreeding and disease outbreaks. And if the volcano, Anak Krakatau, were to erupt and cause a tsunami, it could well spell the end of the species.

When there's little to eat, the rhinos move from the safety of thick jungle into more open areas. There, they must compete with wild cows and duncans (a smaller native cow) for food. It would only take one virulent disease outbreak, spread by those grazers, to wipe out the entire rhino population.

 

WWF - the rhino's biggest ally

The good news is, (and there’s some!) that the Javan rhinos are still reproducing - a positive sign that our conservation efforts are helping.

 

In the past 20 years, the population has grown from 46 to 67.

 

However, the only way we're going to bring this critically endangered species back from the brink is to restore what remains of the Javan rhino's habitat. That means removing vast swathes of Arenga palm and re-establishing rhino food plants.

 

It's hot and hard labour in the Javan heat. But that's nothing new to WWF. We've been working to protect the Javan rhino since 1952, before Ujung Kulon National Park was gazetted and the rhinos were protected. We're in it for the long haul.

 

Please help us protect the Javan rhino.

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