ASIAN RHINOCEROS SPECIES AND THEIR ENDANGERED, FRAGILE STATUS

SPECIES OF RHINOCEROS IN ASIA


Asian rhonoceros

There are five rhinoceros species. 1) the white rhinoceros of Africa; 2) the black rhinoceros of Africa; 3) the Indian rhinoceros; 4) Sumatran rhinoceros of Sumatra, Borneo and Southeast Asia; and 5) the Javanese rhinoceros. The one horned rhinoceros of Asia is the second largest of the five species of rhino. The African white rhino is the largest and the African black rhino is third, followed by the Sumatran rhino and the Javanese rhino.

The folds in the inch-thick hide of the one horned Indian and Sumatran rhinos make them look as if they are plated in armor. Most Asian rhinoceroses are found in India and Nepal with some in Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo and Vietnam and perhaps in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.

There are far fewer rhinos in Asia: only 3,500, versus 25,000 across Africa. Countries where Asian rhinos are found---Indonesia, Nepal and India---have pledged to take steps to grow their rhino populations by three percent annually.

See Separate Article on the SUMATRAN RHINO.

Rhino News: mongabay.com; savetherhino.org

African Rhinos

White rhinoceroses weigh up to 4,500 pounds and stand six feet at the shoulder (males: 168 centimeters, females: 152 centimeters). They are dived into two subspecies: the northern, which has been virtually wiped out in its home range in Uganda and the Sudan; and the southern, which has made a come back in South Africa. White rhinos are not named after color. "White" is a corruption of " weit," Afrikaans for wide, a reference to the animals wide lips. But black rhinos ironically were named after their color to distinguish them from white rhinos.

White rhinos are heavier and more placid than black rhinos . They have broad square muzzle and prefer open country, where they crop grass. Their exposure in open country made them easy to spot and kill. White rhinos are remarkably non-aggressive. It is possible to drive a vehicle within a couple feet of them, or approach them on foot, at an equally close range, and they won't even bat an eyelash. The mainly feed on grass which they pluck a few blades at a time with their broad, squareish upper lip.

The main difference between black and white rhinos is the shape of their mouths - white rhinos have broad flat lips for grazing, whereas black rhinos have long pointed lips for eating foliage. A subspecific hybrid white rhino was bred at the Zoological Garden Dvur Kralove in the Czech Republic in 1977. Interspecific hybridisation of black and white rhinoceros has also been confirmed. While the black rhinoceros has 84 chromosomes, all other rhinoceros species have 82 chromosomes.

The black rhinoceros weighs 3000 pounds and stands nearly five feet at the shoulder (males: 152 centimeters, females: 137 centimeters) . They are more aggressive than white rhinos and have been known to charge trains that broached their territory. Black rhinos can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour, and turn and change directions incredible fast. The are sometimes hard to see in the wild because the rest in the shade during the daytime and hang it scrubby bush country.

Black rhinos eat mostly shrubs, herbs and fruit, but hardly any grass. They have constantly rotating ears, inch-thick hide and a pointed upper lip and a overlapping lower lip, which allows the animal to grasp twigs and leaves. If there is enough moisture in their food they can go several weeks without water. They enjoy wallowing in the dust and mud. They have the habit of stomping in their own dung to leave odor trails across the savannah, making it easier for other rhinos to find their whereabouts.



Indian Rhinos

The Indian rhinoceros---also called greater one-horned rhinoceros and Asian one-horned rhinoceros---and the Javanese rhinoceros are the only rhinos with one horn. The Indian species has thick, silver-brown skin which creates huge folds all over its body. Its upper legs and shoulders are covered in wart-like bumps, and it has very little body hair. Fully grown males are larger than females in the wild, weighing from 2,500 to 3,200 kilograms (5,500 to 7,100 pounds). Female Indian rhinos weigh about 1,900 kilograms. The single horn of the Indian rhino reaches a length of between 20 and 100 centimeters. Males have larger, tusklike incisors for fighting other males during the breeding season.

The Indian rhinoceros is the second largest animal in Asia after the Asian elephant. It stands at 1.75 to 2.0 meters (5.75 to 6.5 feet) at the shoulder and are three to four meters long. The largest one ever recorded weight approximately 3,800 kilograms. Its size is comparable to that of the white rhino in Africa. The Indian rhino is a creature of habit. Every evening it visits regular sites to wallow in the mud. The deeps folds in its skin create a plating effect, making the animal look as if is wearing armor, which is accentuated by tubercles (lumps), especially on the sides and rear. These resemble rivets. The pink skin within the folds is vulnerable to parasites. These are sometimes removed by egrets and tick birds. Indian rhinos have very little body hair aside from eyelashes, ear fringes and tail brush.

The Indian rhinoceros is usually found in areas of tall grass, an environment also favored by tigers. The grasses can grow as tall as eight meters high in the wet season and serve as a hiding place and a primary sources of food. These rhinos tend to feed mainly at twilight and at night, curling their upper lip around the stems to bend and bite the tend tips. They are also the most aquatic rhino. They are often seen wading or swimming, in wide rivers. A typical rhino has a territory of two to eight square kilometers, whose size is dependant on the availability of food and the quality of the habitat. Males are tolerant of intruders into their territory outside the breeding season. A single calf is usually born after a 16 month gestation period. It typically stays with the mother until her next offspring is born, which ma be three years later.

Indian Rhino Social Life and Behavior


According to The Return of the Unicorns: The Natural History and Conservation of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros by E. Dinerstein: The Indian rhinoceros forms a variety of social groupings. Adult males are generally solitary, except for mating and fighting. Adult females are largely solitary when they are without calves. Mothers will stay close to their calves for up to four years after their birth, sometimes allowing an older calf to continue to accompany her once a newborn calf arrives. Subadult males and females form consistent groupings as well. Groups of two or three young males will often form on the edge of the home ranges of dominant males, presumably for protection in numbers. Young females are slightly less social than the males. Indian rhinos also form short-term groupings, particularly at forest wallows during the monsoon season and in grasslands during March and April. Groups of up to 10 rhinos may gather in wallows---typically a dominant male with females and calves, but no subadult males. [Source: Wikipedia; Dinerstein, E. The Return of the Unicorns: The Natural History and Conservation of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros (2003, Columbia University Press)]

The Indian rhinoceros makes a wide variety of vocalizations. At least ten distinct vocalizations have been identified: snorting, honking, bleating, roaring, squeak-panting, moo-grunting, shrieking, groaning, rumbling and humphing. In addition to noises, the rhino uses olfactory communication. Adult males urinate backwards, as far as 3 to 4 meters behind them, often in response to being disturbed by observers. Like all rhinos, the Indian rhinoceros often defecates near other large dung piles. The Indian rhino has pedal scent glands which are used to mark their presence at these rhino latrines. Males have been observed walking with their heads to the ground as if sniffing, presumably following the scent of females. [Ibid]

In aggregations, Indian rhinos are often friendly. They will often greet each other by waving or bobbing their heads, mounting flanks, nuzzling noses, or licking. Rhinos will playfully spar, run around, and play with twigs in their mouth. Adult males are the primary instigators in fights. Fights between dominant males are the most common cause of rhino mortality and males are also very aggressive toward females during courtship. Males will chase females over long distances and even attack them face-to-face. Unlike African rhinos, the Indian rhino fights with its incisors, rather than its horns. [Ibid]

Endangered Indian Rhinos


rhino sizes

The Indian rhinoceros is now found almost exclusively in Nepal and northeastern India in the tall grasslands and forests in the foothills of the Himalayas. It once ranged across the entire Ganges plain, but when large tracts of swamp land and reed jungles was converted to farms their numbers declined sharply. They now exist only in several scattered and fragmented protected areas of India (in Assam, West Bengal, Gujarat and a few pairs in Uttar Pradesh) and Nepal, plus a few pairs in Lal Suhanra National Park in Pakistan. The rhinos that live in these areas are threatened by poaching and loss of habitat.

About 2,000 Great Indian rhinoceros remain in India and Nepal, up from 1,700 in 1984. More than half the Indian rhinos that remain in the wild (1,200 animals) live in Kaziranga National Park in Assam. The park also contains a large numbers of tigers. Indian rhinoceros populations are healthy even though 266 rhinos is India were killed for their horn between 1989 and 1993. Protection in Nepal and India have increased its numbers to where translocation is possible.

Poaching of Indian Rhinos in Assam

In August 2012, Manimugdha S Sharma of TNN wrote: “Poachers killed a full-grown male rhinoceros inside a forest in Jorhat district, Assam. A forest department team found the carcass in the woods hand-reared by 'forest man of India' Jadav Payeng. "I heard gunshots around 10am and immediately alerted the forest department. But nobody came until Thursday morning. It was the only rhino in my forest. I have lost him," Payeng told TOI amid sobs. Divisional forest officer (DFO) Naba Kumar Malakar confirmed the killing and said the team did not find any visible proof of poaching despite combing the forest the whole day. "The poachers sawed off the rhino horn and its nails. We have found holes in the hide, which look like bullet wounds,” Malakar said. [Source: Manimugdha S Sharma, TNN August 4, 2012]

Ranger Pankaj Kalita said the difficulties in reaching the forest---locally known as 'Molai Kathoni' (Molai's Woods) after Payeng's pet name Molai---also hampered the search operation. But not everyone has been convinced by this "explanation". "I had called up the forest office around 12pm on Wednesday when I learnt about the gunshots from Payeng. Why did it take four hours for the message to be relayed to the DFO? If they had acted with alacrity, they could have nabbed the poachers before they left the forest. Poachers were seen earlier in the forest and two of them had been arrested due to Payeng's timely information. Only if they had acted with a sense of urgency," said Jitu Kalita, Payeng's associate.

This year's flood in Assam alone claimed 17 rhinos in Kaziranga National Park, with poachers adding two more to the tally last month. With this latest killing, the rhino death toll in the state has gone up to 20. That's an awful statistic for Assam that is the last home for the Indian rhino in India.

Rhinos in Kaziranga National Park in India


Rhinos in Kaziranga

Kaziranga National Park (60 miles from Jorhat in Assam) in Assam contains more than half to two thirds of all the one-horned Indian rhinoceroses that remain in the wild (1,200 animals). The number of rhinos grew from 366 in 1966 to 1,080 in 1984 to 1,500 in 2000. Few visitors leave the park with having seen a rhino. Kazirnaga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nestled between the Brahmaputra River and the Mikir Hills, with the Himalayas in the distance, Kazirnaga covers 430 square kilometers (260 square miles) and is located on a long, spongy flood plain of the Brahmaputra. It is primarily open country, which gives visitors a good opportunity to see wildlife, and covered with elephant grass, up to ten feet tall, and swampy ground fed by numerous creeks.

Jessica Frei wrote on the Save the Rhinos website: “A large population of greater one-horned rhinos is found in Assam, India, which is a result of years of impactful conservation in the state. Started in the early 90s, conservation in Kaziranga was affirmed as a Proposed Reserve Forest in the year 1905. The journey of Kaziranga started from there and took many positive turns and twists. It was crowned as a Wildlife Sanctuary in the year 1950 and was accredited as a National park in the year 1974. UNESCO confirmed Kaziranga National Park as a World Heritage Site in December 1985. During this journey, Kaziranga faced many challenges, overcame various issues and stood as one of the remarkable wildlife conservations in India. [Source: Jessica Frei, Save the Rhinos, December 2013]

“The rhino census passed out by Kaziranga National Park in March 2013 (done every year), found an increase in the number of one-horned rhinos. According to them, the figure comes out as 2,329, which is an increase from the last year’s figure of 2,290. Apart from Kaziranga National Park, these wild animals are even found in various others wildlife safety areas in Assam. The total number of one-horned rhinos in Assam stands at 2,544 according to state wildlife officials.

Rhinos in Nepal


Nepal's protected forests were estimated by a census in 2011 to be home to more than 500 rhinos, most of them in Chitwan National Park, about 120km (75 miles) south-west of the capital Kathmandu. Nepal faced a serious problem of rhino poaching about 10 years ago when the country was affected by civil war between government forces and Maoist rebels. [Source: BBC, October 7, 2013 ^^]

In 2002, about 37 rhinos were killed by poachers, triggering grave concern over the future of one-horned rhinos. Their population dropped from an estimated 612 in 2000 to less than 375 in 2005. But numbers have increased to more than 500 after a series of anti-poaching measures were taken by the authorities. ^^

Rhinos are pictured on the back of very Nepalese 100 rupee note. Medicines made from rhino urine are used on ear infections , asthma, and tuberculosis. Rhino dung is smoked in a pipe to cure fever. "Nepali villagers," Eric Dinerstein wrote in Smithsonian magazine "seem uninterested in the horn but will pay good money for high-test urine." [Source: Heimanta Raj Mishra and Smithsonian, September 1987]

The rhino population of Nepal has increased from 95 in 1960s, to 260 in 1975 to 360 in 1986 to 600 in the early 2000s, about a fifth of the world's total. Most lives in Chitawan and Bardiya National Parks. Each year a land rovers and jeeps are charged by belligerent rhinos in Chitawan National Park and a couple of people get trampled or gored.

Rhinos in Royal Chitawan National Nepal

Royal Chitawan National Park (a short flight or a long bus ride from Kathmandu) is one of the best places in the world to see Asian one horned rhinoceros and Bengal tiger. There are over 300 rhinoceros and one of the largest populations of tigers in Asia. The treks through park's marshes and tall grass, where most animals are spotted, are usually done on the backs of elephants. Situated in the lowlands of the Inner Terai of Nepal, Chitawan (also known as Chitwan at Chitaun) is Nepal's first and most famous national park. Covering an area of about 500 square miles and formerly a royal hunting ground, the park consists of floodplains, low hills and forests of kapok, acacia and sisam trees.

Because of the fertile soil and high water table, the grasses in Chitawan National Park grows ups to 25 feet high. In January, the grasses are often cut and burned off.A few weeks later the landscape is covered by tender shoots that feed large herds of chital and hog deer as well as rhinos. A month after the fires the grass is knee high, providing enough cover for tigers to stalk their prey. By April the grasses reach an elephant's eye.

The control of poaching and cattle grazing inside Chitawan by the Nepalese Army has been one of the main reasons for the animal's return. Soldiers are given orders to shoot poachers on sight Poachers that are caught are sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined 100,000 rupees (around $1,500). Even so rhinos continue to be poached Rhinos in Nepal are also accidently electrocuted and poisoned. Some are swept away by monsoon rains and drown while they wallow in the mud.

The program to save rhinos has been so successful there is now an overpopulation of rhinos in Chitawan National Park are rhinos are being relocated . A new rhino population was established Bardiya to prevent against inbreeding and susceptibility to an epidemic.

Javan Rhinoceros: the World's Rarest Rhino


The Javan rhinoceros is slightly smaller than the Indian rhino and a little bit larger than the Sumatran rhino. Like the closely related Indian rhinoceros, the Javan rhinoceros has a single horn. Its distinguishing features are its 26-centimeters horn and a prominent fold in the hide of its front shoulder. More than almost any other creature living today it resembles the prehistoric mammals which dominated the earth millions of years ago. [Source: Diter and Mary Plage, National Geographic, June 1985]

The Javan rhino may be the rarest large mammal on Earth. There are thought to be only around 50 of the animals left in existence, all living in the wild in Ujung Kulon National Park. There are none in captivity. Reporting from Ujung Kulon, Arlina Arshad of AFP wrote: “The shy creature, whose folds of loose skin give it the appearance of wearing armour plating, once numbered in the thousands and roamed across Southeast Asia. Officials in Ujung Kulon believe there were 51 of the rhinos in 2012, including eight calves, basing their estimate on images captured by hidden cameras. They hope the true figure may be in the 70s and will have a new estimate once data for 2013 has been collated. [Source: Arlina Arshad, AFP, December 23, 2013]

The Javan rhinoceros’s hairless, hazy gray skin falls into folds into the shoulder, back, and rump giving it an armored-like appearance. The Javan rhino's body length reaches up 3.2 meters (10 feet), including its head and stands 1.5 to 1.7 meters (4 feet, 10 inches to 5 feet 7 inches) at the shoulder. Adults are variously reported to weigh between 900 to 1,400 kilograms or 1,360 to 2,000 kilograms. Only males have true horns. Females have knobs or nothing that is visible.

Javan rhinoceros are relatively hairless except for their ears. The thick gray skin is divided into deep folds, making a saddle over the neck, with lumps or nodules, giving an armor-plated effect. The horn is relatively short.

Of all the rhino species, the least is known of the Javan Rhino. These animals prefer dense lowland rain forest, tall grass and reed beds that are plentiful with large floodplains and mud wallows. Javanese rhinos are very shy. They will flee their normal browsing grounds if they sense humans or animals such as oxen or deer coming near. Females give birth and raise their calves near the coast. The gestation period is 16 months. One calf is born and it is thought to saty with the mother for around two years. Sections of males home ranges usually extend to the coast. They are thought to be territorial, marking their territory with piles of dung and urine pools.

Largely nocturnal, Javan rhinos it eats a variety of plant but seem to prefer the shoots of young trees. If they can't reach the shoots on small trees they will often knock the tree down to get at them. The presence of rhino tracks on the beach led some scientists to speculate that the rhinos also eat salt-water mangroves.

Endangered Javan Rhinos


Javan rhino range

Javan rhinoceroses are among the rarest animals on earth. According to 2002 estimates, only about 60 remain, in Java (Indonesia) and Vietnam. Their original range included Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India and Nepal. By the 1930s the rhinoceros was nearly hunted to extinction in India, Burma, Peninsular Malaysia, and Sumatra for the supposed medical powers of its horn and blood. As of 2009, there are only 40 of them remaining in Ujung Kulon Conservation, Java, Indonesia. The last rhinoceros in Vietnam was reportedly killed in 2010. The are no Javanese rhino in any zoo, let alone a breeding pair.

Ujung Kulong Park is thought to be the only place where Javanese rhinoceros are found in Java. There they live in two isolated populations in areas of dense jungle, mangroves swamps and bamboo thickets. A 1993 World Wildlife Fund census found 47 rhinoceros in Ujung Kulon Park. In the 1980s there were around 60 of them. Dieter and Mary Plage spent a year in Ujong Kulon National Park trying to photograph the Java rhinoceros for National Geographic in the early 1980s. It took six months to get a clear a shot of a rhino. They had spotted the animal before but only tantalizing glimpses of an ear here or a tail there.

Java was thought to be the only place where the Javanese rhinos lived until they were discovered at Cat Loc Nature Reserve in Vietnam. In 1999, an extremely rare Javan rhinoceros was photographed in a swamp in Lam Dong Province southern Vietnam. At that time it was thought there were about 10 of these animals in Vietnam. In the 1990s the The World Wildlife Fund printed up bumper stickers encouraging people to save "our" rhino, but at that time few people had cars especially in regions where the animals were hunted.

Reasons for Endangered Javan Rhinos


Overhunting, poaching for the the rhino horn trade and encroachment from people have all been factors in the decline of the Javan rhinoceros. There are a large number of people living in the Ujung Kulon Park. In the old days people that lived around the park believed that no feast was complete unless some rhino delicacies were present. The rhinos are also suffering from a lack of food as Arenga palm have spread rapidly and crowded out plants the rhinos normally eat.

In 19th century there were tens of thousands of Javanese rhinoceros roaming Java. They were so numerous and caused so much damage to crops that rewards were offered by the government to kill them. Over 526 were killed in one two year period. In 1900 one hunter alone killed nine.

Ironically it may have been a tiger may have saved the Javanese rhino from extinction. After World War II a group of poachers went to Ujong Kulon with a plan to wipe out all of the park's rhino. When the poachers entered the peninsula one of them was killed by a tiger. Since local villagers wouldn't help them to kill the tiger (although would have helped with the rhinos) the poachers gave up and went back home.

Javan Rhino Clings to Survival in Last Forest Stronghold


The main threats to the Javan rhino is no longer poaching but food scarcity, illness and the risk of natural disasters in an archipelago where earthquakes and landslides are common, according to WWF Indonesia.

Oliver Milman wrote in The Guardian: “For most people in south-east Asia, the Javan rhino is effectively already a relic from the past. The stocky herbivore, that once roamed across Burma, Vietnam and Indonesia, is now a rarely glimpsed inhabitant of a single patch of thick forest on the island which gives it its name. No zoo in the world – even through captive breeding programmes – boasts a Javan rhino. Even people dedicated to protecting the world's rarest large mammal seldom catch sight of the species. "I've been to its habitat three times and got very excited just to see its footprints," says Kerry Crosbie, project director at the Asian Rhino Project, which funds the efforts of Indonesian rhino NGOs. "You have to be incredibly lucky to see one." [Source: Oliver Milman, The Guardian, September 7, 2012 ><]

“Camera traps and footprints in the Ujung Kulon national park, on western tip of Java, confirm that the rhino does still exist, albeit in perilously low numbers. There are 35 confirmed Javan rhinos in its last bastion – 22 males, 13 females and five juveniles. However, NGOs in the region estimate the total number could, in fact, be as high as 47. Australian conservationist Tim Flannery, who is a patron of the rhino project, adds: "They are majestic animals, they play a vital role in dispersing fruit and maintaining a healthy ecosystem and we are bloody lucky to have them. We once had a dozen rhino species and we're now down to five, so every last one should be treasured." ><

“What is not in doubt is sharp decline the species has suffered in the past century due to habitat loss and poaching. The cornered animal is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, was confirmed extinct in Vietnam last year and some conservationists privately fret the species is doomed. Unlike their African cousins, poaching isn't considered an imminent threat to the Javan rhinos, with a combination of park rangers, who clear snares from the forest, and the sheer inaccessibility of the creatures ensuring no incidents of hunting in the last decade. ><

Challenges Saving the Javan Rhino

"There is potentially a low genetic pool as there are so few of them left," says Crosbie. "Generally, they produce just one calf every three years, and that's in prime breeding conditions. They have a 16-month gestation, which is an issue with raising their numbers." "The fact they are all in one place is better for breeding, unlike the Sumatran rhino, which is in fragmented pieces of forest. But it does mean all our eggs are in one basket. A catastrophic event, be it a disease or a tsunami, could wipe all of them out." Such a disaster in the region isn't merely theoretical. The 1883 eruption of nearby Krakatoa devastated the area, but with humans displaced and new vegetation blooming, the incident provided an ideal staging ground for the Javan rhino's last stand. [Source: Oliver Milman, The Guardian, September 7, 2012 ><]

“A second catastrophe won't be quite so helpful to the species. And there are further threats. The vegetation is changing, with the arenga palm tree spreading across the park, crowding out the rhino's food source. "We are currently working out the best eradication programme for the palm, because it is blanketing the forest," says Crosbie. "There's also a problem with banteng – a type of local cattle – which is increasing in number and in food competition with the rhino. We are looking to fence off the western portion of the park to keep out the livestock." ><

However, the continuation of such a tiny population hardly seems viable. Numbers on Java have risen from 25 animals in 1967, but it's a slow increase.Conservationists say they will have to decide whether to split the remaining animals to create another group elsewhere. Adhi Hariyadi, of WWF Indonesia, says: "Having one single population is not ideal from a conservation point of view. We will have to borrow some of the animals to create a second population somewhere, either in Sumatra or Java." ><

"But the numbers are so low that we will have to be very careful in doing this. If you get it wrong, you've badly damaged the species." "We are hopeful that we can get the numbers up. What gives us hope is the example of the Indian and white rhinos. The Indian rhino was down to 35 individuals and now there are several thousand. The white rhino had just four left in the wild and now they are up to tens of thousands. It can be done." "If a number of factors work out, I imagine we can get the numbers up by 20 percent in the next 30 to 40 years. But the increase won't be dramatic and it will require the next generation to take responsibility for the species." ><

Indonesia Builds Sanctuary to Save the Javan Rhino

Reporting from Ujung Kulon, Arlina Arshad of AFP wrote: “On a leaf-covered dirt path overlooking lush paddy fields in western Indonesia, the world's rarest rhino had left a trail of hoofprints in the soft mud and bite marks on foliage. For people seeking a glimpse of the Javan rhino -- revered in local folklore as Abah Gede, or the Great Father -- such small signs are likely to be the closest they get. But now conservationists are hoping that the country's first ever Javan rhino sanctuary can pull the animal back from the brink of extinction. [Source: Arlina Arshad, AFP, December 23, 2013]

The new sanctuary will encompass 5,100 hectares (12,600 acres) of lush rainforest, freshwater streams and mudholes in the park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park opened in March 2013. Park officials say that from hoofprints and bite marks, they believe nine rhinos have already wandered into new areas set aside for them. "It means our scheme to turn this sanctuary into a comfortable home for them is working," the park's habitat manager Rusdianto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP.

The rhinos were already living mainly in one corner of the park. But the new sanctuary has expanded the area suitable for them and relocated farmers who were living there to reduce the chances of animal-human conflict. An electric fence is also being constructed -- the final piece of work that needs to be completed -- to mark the boundary and prevent the rhinos from straying out of the sanctuary and humans from coming in. Park officials, who are government employees, have also been planting suitable food for the rhinos. During a recent visit by AFP, workers were seen clearing palm trees from the area and replacing them with shrubs and small trees. "We hope this sanctuary will hasten breeding and lead to more births of this treasured rare animal," park chief Moh Haryono told AFP. "In a more enclosed space, the male and female rhino will have more opportunities to frolic and mate freely."

Setting up the sanctuary, which is government-run but fully funded by US-based charity the International Rhino Foundation, has been no easy task. It was originally due to open in 2011 but was held up due to red tape, a common problem in the sprawling Indonesian archipelago, which has a huge and often inefficient bureaucracy. Work also stalled for a year due to protests from residents demanding compensation for farmland they had to give up, as well as from local animal activists who felt the use of heavy machinery to build the fence threatened the environment.

Despite the myriad threats, wildlife officials are hopeful the new sanctuary is a step in the right direction. They have also been heartened by strong support from the local community. Any effort to save the Great Father is applauded in an area where centuries-old beliefs persist and intertwine with the vast majority's Muslim faith. "We must do all we can to prevent the Javan rhino from becoming extinct," Suhaya, a 67-year-old farmer who goes by one name, told AFP. "Locals here believe that Abah Gede must not vanish from the face of the Earth, or disaster will befall us."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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