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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Nearly Extinct Rhino Babies Caught on Video

Nearly Extinct Rhino Babies Caught on Video

There may be as few as 40 Javan rhinos left in the wild — and in the world as none currently are living in captivity. (They may be the rarest large mammals on the planet.) Recently a motion-activated video camera in an Indonesian national park caught two very young Javan rhinos with their mothers on tape. Not only are they extremely rare, they also only give birth about once every four or five years.

“The videos are great news for Javan rhinos and prove that they are breeding in Ujung Kulon. There are no Javan rhinos in captivity — if we lose the population in the wild, we’ve lost them all,” said Dr. Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist at WWF-US. (Source: WWF)

(If you want to support Javan rhino conservation, you can donate to the World Wildlife Fund.)
Javan rhinos used to be widespread in various parts of Asia, but poaching decreased their numbers drastically. Traditional Chinese “medicine” has driven the price of rhino horn to as much as $30,000 per kilogram even though scientifically it has been proven to have no medicinal significance. The main ingredient of rhino horn is simply keratin, the same protein found in human fingernails so consuming rhino horn powder would have the same effect as eating one’s own fingernails. The superstitious false belief in rhino horn has fueled the poaching of rhinos for 2,000 years.

The news is especially good because Javan rhinos are solitary and prefer to stay far from humans, which makes it very difficult to study them. Javan rhinos live about 30-45 years in the wild,  and are herbivores. Any Javan rhinos that were kept in captivity did not do well, dying at about half their lifespan in the wild. They have no known predators other than humans.

Another large mammal on Java already went extinct — the Javan tiger. They were all shot, and their habitat was converted for agriculture. The situation for the Javan rhinos is dire, but at least there are conservationists trying to protect them. They are still at risk from poachers who want to cash them in for a quick sale on the black market.