Once ranging from the foothills of the Himalayas to the Islands of Indonesia, the Javan Rhino was once considered an agricultural pest due to its affinity for grazing in rice fields. Today it is restricted to a single site, Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia.
There are only 67 Javan Rhinos left in the world. All are restricted to one part of Ujung Kulon and all face an array of threats that could wipe the species from the face of the Earth in a devastatingly short period of time:
Poaching: The last-known rhino poaching incident in Ujung Kulon National Park occurred in the 1990s, but it is well documented that the last Javan Rhino in Vietnam was shot as recently as 2010 and poaching of rhinos in Africa increased 1,000 percent between 2007 and 2015 as demand in Vietnam and China morphed and grew dramatically. Poaching is therefore an ever-present threat that must not be underestimated.
Anak Krakatoa volcano: This active volcano grows larger each year and could erupt with little warning. An eruption would likely lead to forest fire, rock fall and deadly gas across the distribution of the Javan Rhino.
Tsunami: A 2017 study by GWC and partners found that a tsunami as high as 10 meters, which is projected to occur within the next 100 years, could threaten 80 percent of the area with the highest density of rhinos.
Disease: Various diseases are found in the local domestic livestock herds and numerous rhino deaths have been presumed to have been a result of diseases spread from livestock. A recent study found that 90 percent of buffalo in villages adjacent to the core rhino area have trypanosoma.
Reduced food availability: A native palm, Arenga obtusifolia, has spread to cover more than half of the area inhabited by rhinos, shading out the understory and so reducing the amount of browse available to the rhinos. This decreased availability of food reduces the carrying capacity of the park and so slows the breeding rate of the rhinos.
Small population: The smaller a population gets, the more likely its size alone becomes a driver of its decline. Demographic impacts such as skewed sex ratios and inbreeding depression—where an increase in mortality, reduction in fertility, or increased expression of rare genetic disorders—can drive the population to extinction through slow, yet irreversible declines.
(Javan Rhino photos courtesy of WWF-Indonesia)
Cause for Hope
We know how to save rhinos from going extinct and to recover their populations. The Southern White Rhino population was reduced to around 20 individuals at the turn of the 20th century, but has rebounded to more than 20,000 today. Black Rhinos were reduced to 2,475 in 1993, but have recovered to more than 5,000 today. The Greater One-horned Rhino population has been recovered from around 100 at the turn of the 20th century to more than 3,300 today. These recoveries were hard fought through a combination of intensive protection, habitat management, and active population management. Using the same principles, we can catalyze a similar recovery of the Javan Rhino.
Researchers believe that the population of Javan Rhinos in Ujung Kulon has hovered around 50-60 animals since the 1980s, having recovered from an estimated 21-28 in 1967. The first statistically robust survey in 2013 produced an estimate of 58-61. Annual monitoring since then has seen the number increase to 67 in 2017.
The cumulative efforts to recover the species are having an impact as shown by the increasing numbers of animals in the park; but we can still do more. GWC is working with the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Asian Rhino Specialist Group, YABI, WWF-Indonesia, the International Rhino Foundation, and Wildlife Protection Solutions to deliver a holistic approach to saving and recovering the Javan Rhino by:
- Ensuring zero poaching of Javan Rhino maintained annually.
- Reducing the risk of disease transmission from domestic cattle.
- Increasing habitat suitability for rhinos through Arenga Palm control.
- Working with communities adjacent to Ujung Kulon to ensure they are supportive of Javan Rhino conservation efforts.
- Monitoring individual rhinos.
- Establishing a second population of Javan Rhino in an area not impacted by tsunamis and volcanoes.
Ujung Kulon National Park
India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java