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Archive for September, 2015

Endangered Species Monday: Rhinoceros sondaicus

javanrhino

Endangered Species Monday: Rhinoceros sondaicus 

This Endangered Species Post (ESP) Monday I have decided to touch up on the current fate of the critically endangered Javan Rhinoceros of which scientists this month caught yet another rare glimpse of this rather elusive beast within their still natural habitat. (Pic Javan Rhinoceros) 

The Javan Rhinoceros was identified back in 1822 by Dr Anselme Gaëtan Desmarest (March 6, 1784 – June 4, 1838) was a French zoologist and author. He was the son of Nicolas Desmarest and father of Anselme Sébastien Léon Desmarest. Desmarest was a disciple of Georges Cuvier and Alexandre Brongniart, and in 1815, he succeeded Pierre André Latreille to the professorship of zoology at the École nationale vétérinaire d’Alfort. In 1820 he was elected to the Académie Nationale de Médecine.

Unlike the African black and white rhino, you’d be very lucky to catch a glimpse of this stunning specimen of which is classified as a sub-species of the four extant Rhinoceros and, is nearing complete extinction within the wild. Furthermore the subspecies of the Javan Rhinoceros are all extinct too. Known as Rhinoceros sondaicus sondaicus, Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus, and Rhinoceros sondaicus inermis the three sub-species went extinct from 1930-2011. Below I have included the “documented dates” of extinctions for the three sub-species to the Javan Rhinoceros.

  1. Rhinoceros sondaicus sondaicus (extinction was formally documented from 1999, however this report needs to be backed up with further historical data to pinpoint an exact extinction and location).
  2. Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus (extinction was formally recorded in 2010, however reports state the very last male was located dead within Viet Nam back in 2011).
  3. Rhinoceros sondaicus inermis (extinction was formally recorded back in 1925).

Please note the Wikipedia article online has confused the (extanct) R. sondaicus with the (extinct) subspecies Rhinoceros sondaicus sondaicus.

From 1965 Rhinoceros sondaicus was considered ‘extremely rare’ within the wild, then from 1986 to 1994 the species was classified as (endangered). Unfortunately from 1996 the species was again re-classified as (critically endangered) and now no fewer than sixty individuals remain within the wild.  The last sighting of ‘a’ Javan rhino was I believe on the 18th September 2015 at exactly 17:46 hrs within the Ujung Kulon National Park.

Javan rhino’s did cover quite an extensive area ranging from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Viet Nam, and probably southern China through peninsular Malaya to Sumatra and Java. Sadly the species is now thought to be inhabiting the Ujung Kulon National Park which is located within Indonesia. Further non-viable (all male) and elderly populations are also claimed to be inhabiting a very small area of Viet Nam.

To date the species is now endemic only to Indonesia, however there are said to be few individuals ‘possibly’ remaining within Viet Nam too.  I must stress though that there has been no official camera trap sightings or actual eyeball sightings of the species in as many years within Viet Nam of which its likely the species “may have gone extinct”.

Regional extinctions of the current sub-species have occurred within the following countries; Bangladesh; Cambodia; China; India; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia); Myanmar and Thailand. Reports from the 18th September 2015 have also confirmed that the species has taken some ‘fifty years’ to double in size from (50) to now (60) individuals remaining.

From the middle of the nineteenth century the species was practically eradicated due to over-hunting, unregulated hunting, poaching, disease and habitat destruction. The last records of the Javan Rhinoceros within locations not listed above were from 1920 in Myanmar, to 1932 in Malaysia, and 1959 on Sumatra (Indonesia). Up to date records have proven further sightings this year and last year within Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park. The last “known” poached Javan Rhino (sub-species) was said to be from 2010-2011 which was that of the Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus species of which “complete extinction” was formally documented in relation to this specific sub-species of the Rhinoceros sondaicus.

The exact number of individuals noted within the wild is said to be in between 40-60 individuals however due to such small “fragmented locations” its quite difficult at times to know just how many do actually remain, hence the need for increased conservation projects, funding and anti poaching operations to increase. On a good note we know the species is reproducing, unfortunately on a bad note 40-60 individuals is considered near extinct and drastic measures need to be implemented sooner rather than later to preserve the remaining wild specimens.

The second “alleged” location and I stress alleged of the Rhinoceros sondaicus occurs in and around the Cat Loc part (Dong Nai province) of the Cat Tien National Park in Viet Nam, with maybe as few as six individuals remaining. Please do remember not to confuse the extinction of the Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus within the same country (Viet Nam) with the Rhinoceros sondaicus that’s considered still extant although possibly believed to be extinct within (Viet Nam). (I will be providing an update in relation to the alleged Cat Tien Javan Rhino R. sondaicus) via my main Facebook site and will correct amend this document accordingly.

Something I do find rather peculiar is that there are currently no Javan Rhinoceros within protective captivity. Records have stated that some twenty two individuals have been recorded within protective captivity though. I do find this rather strange as we have in zoological gardens around the world just about every other species of Rhinoceros to protect its current future for reintroduction back into the wild at a later date – yet the Javan Rhinoceros has literally been left to its own demise. I’ve yet to locate any real reasonable explanation as to why from the mid 1980’s some individuals were not removed from the wild and bred within protective captivity.

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Image: Javan Rhinoceros information graph.

The Javan Rhinoceros currently occurs in lowland tropical rainforest areas, especially in the vicinity of water. The species formerly occurred in more open mixed forest and grassland and on high mountains. Because of its rarity, little is known about its preferred habitat, but it is certainly not naturally restricted to dense tropical forest water. Little is known about the species’ biology and the habitats in which the two remaining populations are found may not be optimal.

The home range size of females is probably no more than 500 ha, while males wonder over larger areas, with likely limited dispersal distance. The species is generally solitary, except for mating pairs and mothers with young. Its life history characteristics are not well known, with longevity estimated at about 30-40 years, gestation length of approximately 16 months (as with other rhino species), and age at sexual maturity estimated at 5-7 years for females and 10 years for males. -IUCN.

Unlike their African relatives the Javan Rhinoceros has a rather small single black horn (typical of Asiatic rhinos). The black market for rhino horns varies with species and price of current horn however it must be noted that the “rarer” the species the more value the horn will provide to the seller. Your average African Rhinoceros horn fetches in the region of $60,000 to $80,000 per kilogram on the black market. However the Asiatic Rhinoceros horn[s] can fetch over or even double this should the species be considered extremely rare.

On a recent visit to Viet Nam I was viewing more Asiatic antique Rhinoceros horn on the black market still selling at higher prices than African rhino horns, however not once did I locate any fresh African horns (2014). So again the need to drastically increase conservation actions, funding and anti poaching patrols is greatly needed. In my own opinion there seems to be way too much funding and awareness pushed into Africa with little progress being seen. Whereas in relation to the Asian Rhinoceros, funding and awareness identical to whats being witnessed in Africa is not even a fraction seen within Asia.

Threats

The cause of population decline is mainly attributable to the excessive demand for rhino horn and other products for Chinese and allied medicine systems. The bulk of the remaining population occurs as a single population within a national park and the population size in Ujung Kulon National Park is probably limited to the effective carrying capacity of the area (around 50 animals). One possible threat to this population is disease. In addition, such a small population faces a constant threat from poachers, although there is evidence that current poaching levels are under control. The Cat Loc population may be too small to be viable, and no breeding has been observed for many years, and it is possible that the animals are too old to breed. The population is so small that all the animals could be of the same sex.

While we have in the past month witnessed new Javan sightings and evidence of reproduction the Javan Rhino is by far nowhere near from danger. As explained above disease could wipe the entire fifty to sixty remaining individuals out. Furthermore while poaching levels are currently under control – it will only take a single individual or group of poachers to gather intelligence on the remaining populations thus exterminating the entire wild populations indefinitely.

My name is Dr Jose C. Depre, thank you reading and please be most kind to share and make aware the current plight of our Asiatic Rhinoceros.

Dr Jose C. Depre

Environmental and Botanical Scientist. 

NB: Please note that while there have been “reported sightings” of the R. sondaicus in Viet Nam there is no up to date data that proves this species is still endemic to the country of Viet Nam. 


Endangered Species Friday [Case Study]: Dusicyon australis

Falkland-Islands-wolf

Endangered Species Friday [Case Study]: Dusicyon australis

How the Fur Trade Pushed the Falkland Islands Wolf into Extinction.

This Friday’s Endangered Species watch Post (ESP) focuses on a species that was literally hunted into extinction. Daily I read comments about our wildlife or speak to animal lovers, activists or conservationists of which many show great concern in relation to legal hunting E.g (Cites permitted trophy hunting), or poaching E.g (non-permitted illegal hunting).

D. australis was identified back in 1792 as the (Falklands Wolf) by Dr Robert Kerr (1755 – 11 October 1813) was a scientific writer and translator from Scotland. Dr Kerr was born in Roxburghshire as the son of a jeweler. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and practiced at the Edinburgh Foundling Hospital as a surgeon. He translated several scientific works into English, such as Antoine Lavoisier’s work of 1789, Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published under the title Elements of Chemistry in a New Systematic Order containing All the Modern Discoveries, in 1790.

In 1792, Dr Kerr published The Animal Kingdom, the first two volumes of a four-tome translation of Professor Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae, which is often cited as the taxonomic authority for a great many species. (He never did the remaining two volumes.) What would Dr Kerr say now if he knew this magnificent creature he discovered has since been pushed into extinction via ‘legal hunting practices and deliberate persecution’?. Like few conservationists and philanthropist’s that I have spoken to whom have identified species of birds, frogs and new world primates their most common reaction is utter shock and frustration, although most were not surprised.

While Dr Kerr was the primary individual that named and listed the species, Capt. John Strong, a British Marine explorer was the very first person to discover the Falkland Island Wolf upon landing on the Falkland Islands back in the 1690’s. Based on historical and fossil records we know the species was living quite a peaceful and undisturbed life. Historical records also prove that Charles Darwin who was a naturalist and geologist whom visited the islands back in 1833 stated the Falkland’s Wolf was commonly seen. Its from this point back in the early 1800’s after Charles Darwin’s visit that the Falkland Wolf populations began to decline. Within approximately thirty years after Charles Darwin’s visit – the species then went extinct.

From 1833 to 1876 when active exploration’s and colonization’s began increasing the evidence pinpoints that humans were the primary cause for the species complete extinction. Had the Falkland’s not been colonized or disturbed by explorers and hunters its very likely the Falkland Islands Wolf would still be with us today. That is based on my own expert opinion and scientific studies that have proved islands with no human interference over eighty million years old up to the 1900’s the majority of non-colonized islands regardless of their size – all their natural wildlife discovered is still mostly intact. Take the island of Madagascar as an example!

The prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana separated the Madagascar-Antarctica-India landmass from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. Madagascar later split from India about 88 million years ago, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in relative isolation. As a result of the island’s long isolation from neighboring continents, Madagascar is home to an abundance of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. Approximately 90 percent of all plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic. So we know that if left untouched both the Falkland island and Madagascar’s habitat and wildlife both flora and fauna lived undistributed.

While Madagascar’s history is a little different from the Falkland Islands the evidence is clear, that as soon as explorers, human colonies, immigrants and travelling settlers visited – the habitat became threatened just as the Falkland’s Wolf became extinct in under thirty years after Charles Darwin’s visit, 1833. Only 10 percent of Madagascar’s forests now remain. Also, recent estimates suggest that 1-2 percent of Madagascar’s remaining forests are destroyed each year, and that a staggering 80-90 percent of Madagascar’s land area burns each year. Ninety percent of Madagascar’s Lemurs are moving towards complete extinction – and why? from 700 CE – 1500 when immigrants, traders and explorers arrived – wildlife and habitat began to decline gargantuanly. However based on historical fur trade records a pattern has emerged – its concerning – its continuing – and if not banned its likely other animals will suffer due to the fur trade.

“Our ancestors are not to blame”

But lets not jump the gun here blaming our own ancestors for the primary decline of wildlife and destruction of habitat. As Charles Darwin explained in the 1830’s on visiting the Malvina the Falkland Wolf was still quite commonly seen. Just as Lemurs and forest remained intact on the island of Madagascar before humans arrived, history tells us though that our ancestors mostly respected the land and wildlife however, its from years of 1800 that wildlife and habitat began declining. The Falkland’s Wolf wasn’t killed off by our ancestors as such but more – US fur traders from the 1830s, and when Scottish settlers arrived in the 1860s began raising sheep on the Island, D. australis was poisoned as a pest species too.

extinct1

Is it just a mere coincidence that the Falkland Islands Wolf went extinct as soon as the fur trade began booming from the 1600’s to the 1800’s dare I ask? commercial fur trade in North America grew out of the early contact between Indians and European fisherman who were netting cod on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and on the Bay of Gaspé near Quebec. Indians would trade the pelts of small animals, such as mink, for knives and other iron-based products, or for textiles. Exchange at first was haphazard and it was only in the late sixteenth century, when the wearing of beaver hats became fashionable, that firms were established who dealt exclusively in furs. The trade then spread to America thus seeing United States citizens hunting the Falklands Wolf into extinction. So again I question is it correct to blame our ancestors whom colonized the Falkland Islands of which Darwin stated the wolf was still commonly seen from 1830, bur more blame Canadians, Americans and Europeans for the introduction of the fur trade? That’s the problem, not colonization or immigration but sheer commercialization of an animal trade and greed.

There are some other factors of course that relate to the Falkland’s Wolf extinction. The species natural prey which was rodents were in decline too. Due to the decline of certain prey specimens this unfortunately forced the wolf into now human populated agricultural lands, hunting sheep. The Falkland’s Wolf was then seen as a pest of which settlers, mainly farmers deliberately laid poisoned traps thus decreasing populations furthermore. Its believed that the decline in rodents was primarily due to humans protecting their farms and crops. None knows for sure the entire Falkland’s Wolf diet but – ground-nesting birds such as geese and penguins, grubs and insects, as well as seashore scavenging would most likely have been common prey and foraging behavior.

Conclusion:

The Falkland’s Wolf was killed off by greed, legal hunting and the fur trade. Its quite sad to know that after Darwin’s notes were made public the species soon became extinct some thirty years later, had them notes not been publicized – the species could still be with extant. While we have certain protocols, laws and agreements in place such as the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (Cites), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – history is still repeating itself, so I do at the best of times question why we have such organisations in place to protect wildlife – when its “we humans” that should be taking the stand and protecting what is left on Planet Earth. While poaching remains a significantly large threat to many large fauna such as Lions, Elephants, Rhino and aquatic wildlife. The agricultural trade, indiscriminate hunting and habitat loss remains the number one threat to all species of flora and fauna.

So, how do we stop further extinctions and declines of wildlife? Well if you’ve read this entire article all the way through (the answer is in front of you).. You’ve just got to open your eyes, absorb the information and act on it.

Dr Jose C. Depre. 

Environmental and Botanical Science. 

info@international-animalrescue-foundation.org.uk