No bones about it: Scientists examine rhinoceros bones. — Photo courtesy WWF
VIET NAM — Vetinarians looking into the death of a rare Javan rhinoceros in Cat Tien National Park have said it died from gun shot wounds.
A team of international veterinary, forensic and wildlife experts believe the rhinoceros, possibly the last in Viet Nam, had been shot in the leg two to three months before it died. The decomposed carcass was discovered last April.
"The injuries caused by the bullet were extensive, resulting in severe damage, infection and impaired mobility for the rhinoceros for several months before it died," said Dr Ulrike Streicher, Wildlife Veterinarian and a member of the investigation team. "Although it is not known exactly what factor ultimately caused the death of the rhino, it is most likely that this rhino died as a result of the bullet wound, either through an infection or a fall."
It is believed the Javan or lesser one-horned rhinoceros was 15-25 years old. In the wild they can live to about 40.
The team of experts looking into the death of the rhino last September came from the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), Cat Tien National Park, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Freeland Foundation – an international non-governmental organisation working in Asia on environmental conservation and human rights – together with two veterinarians, one a pathology expert from the University of Cambridge in southern England. Preliminary results of their investigation were presented to Lam Dong Province and Tan Phu District officials, who released the report last Thursday.
The experts said the injured rhinoceros would have been easier for poachers to track. They did not rule out the possibility that the animal was shot again.
"This is such a sad time for conservation in Viet Nam. The shooting of this emblematic species is a national tragedy which has resulted in global concern for the fate of this threatened species," said Tran Van Thanh, director of Cat Tien National Park.
It is a criminal offence under Vietnamese law to kill, trade or consume any part of an animal listed in the Viet Nam Red Book of endangered species, of which the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is one.
The WWF and Cat Tien National Park officers have urged the police to find who was responsible for the killing of the rhinoceros.
"The results of the DNA analysis into the status of the Javan rhinoceros population should be available soon, to confirm whether this tragic event really does represent the extinction of Viet Nam's unique Javan rhinoceros population," said Sarah Brook, species co-ordinator for WWF Viet Nam.
Although the reason why the rhino was killed is currently unknown, it is likely to be for the supposed medicinal properties of its horn.
Throughout their African and Asian ranges, all species of rhino are facing increasing pressure from poachers, who hunt them for their horn. "Several seizures and other incidents indicate most of these horns, particularly those from southern Africa, are being smuggled to buyers in Viet Nam," said Tom Milliken, regional director for TRAFFIC in East and Southern Africa.
The Javan rhino is possibly the rarest mammal on the planet. It is estimated that there are just 60 left in the world. Once numerous throughout Southeast Asia, it is now isolated in two small protected areas in Viet Nam and Indonesia.
In October, a South African delegation of rhino crime investigators and representatives from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) visited nature conservationists in Viet Nam to discuss ways to tackle the spiralling decline in rhino numbers in South Africa.
"The visit by South African enforcement officials marked an important step forward in the battle to stop rhino poaching," Milliken said.
"No single country can tackle the rhino crisis alone. It is an international problem, requiring both producers and consumers to commit to collaborative law enforcement action along the entire trade chain." — VNS