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Endangered Species Monday: Rhinoceros sondaicus

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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. 

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Endangered Species Friday – Bos javanicus

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Endangered Species Friday – Bos javanicus

“Thus, the hunting is the proximate cause of decline”

Hunters often demand that we prove to them such a sport or just hunting for food say hasn’t ever pushed a species into nearing extinction or extinction within the wild. The Bos javanicus is under threat from hunters and poachers. (image above – female Banteng)

This Friday’s endangered species article we focus our attention on the Banteng as its commonly known identified back in 1823 by Dr Joseph Wilhelm Eduard d’Alton (August 11, 1772 – May 11, 1840). Mr d’Alton was a German engraver and naturalist who was a native of Aquileia (today part of Italy). He was the father of anatomist Johann Samuel Eduard d’Alton (1803–1854).

He studied in Vienna, and later worked in several locations, including Weimar and Jena. Afterwards he moved to Würzburg, where he worked with embryologist Christian Heinrich Pander (1794–1865). He later taught art history and architectural theory at the University of Bonn, where in 1827 he became a “full professor” of art history. From 1831 to 1840, d’Alton was a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts. One of his famous students in Bonn was Karl Marx. ~Wiki.

The Banteng is listed as (endangered) and is endemic to the countries of Cambodia, Indonesia (Bali, Jawa, Kalimantan), Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia – Regionally Extinct, Sabah), Myanmar, Thailand and lastly Viet Nam.

Unfortunately the species is now known to be “regionally extinct” within the countries of Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam and India. From 1986 to 1994 the species was listed only as (vulnerable) however, due to mass deforestation, poaching, habitat destruction and unregulated hunting not forgetting increasing human population the species has since been listed as (endangered) from 1996 to 2000.

Recent surveys have since established where localized extinctions have occurred (listed above). Furthermore new observations of this rather unique and stunning wild cattle is still considered to be (endangered) despite new evidence of increasing populations emerging in Thailand.

The species historically occurred throughout China in the Yunnan province. Historical data proves the Banteng was present within the Peninsular Malaysia to the islands of Borneo, Java, and probably Bali (please note that in Bali both domestic and wild cattle are known to coexist).

There is no evidence that the species originated from Bali due to there being no fossil evidence being located thus far. Some “populations” on the island are therefore classified as (domestic) rather than all wild. A point of concern has been noted from Dr Watling that quoted “interbreeding with domestic Bali cattle is a problem and the population is unlikely to consist solely of pure-bred animals”. Dr Wind and Dr Amir had earlier raised similar fears too back in 1977.

The species known to inhabit the island of Bali was introduced and did not originate as explained above.  Furthermore the “domestic” Banteng have been introduced into Sulawesi, Sumbawa, and Sumba. Feral Banteng occur in Kalimantan. Introduced Banteng (probably feral animals) occurs on the Indonesian islands of Enggano (off Sumatra) and Sangihe (off Sulawesi).

Domestic Banteng has also been introduced to New Guinea and Australia and there are now large feral herds in the Northern Territory. One may have noticed in local Australian hunting magazines, online or within farms in the Northern Territory hunters now paying large sums of money to kill and trophy mount the species within their homes. Despite the “wild” populations suffering and nearing extinction little money from such hunting projects is even provided to conservation organisations and local communities to preserve the species within its native habitat.

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Image: Male Banteng Bull (Males are mostly black whereas females are brown)

Wild Banteng are known to live on the island of Bali (please remember not to confuse domestic with wild populations). Furthermore wild Banteng are known to inhabit the island of Java, Kalimantan [Indonesian Borneo], Sabah (although in Sabah extinctions have been noted but not as yet fully confirmed).

A few populations remain in Sarawak however the species is completely extinct within Brunei. Banteng are extinct within Bangladesh and, in India. There are some conflicting reports that the species never even existed within Manipur (northern India – to note).

Extinctions have occurred sadly in Western Malaysia since the 1950’s. southeast Yunnan around Tongbiguan Nature Reserve, along the border with Myanmar; however, the source for this is unclear; and presence in China should be considered tentative at best. Its quite likely the Banteng in China is extinct too however this must not be taken as confirmed. We remain open on this case until further proof is made available of populations being present within the range as explained above.

The species is still wildly inhabiting within Cambodia, Cardamoms Mountain range, with the bulk of the population remaining in the eastern forests, centered on Mondulkiri Province.

The entire “worlds” population is said to be no fewer than 8,000 mature individuals however could be no fewer than 5,000 if that. In Cambodia, Banteng probably declined by 90% . Listed on Cites Appendix II population trends are declining rapidly despite the fact there are some four sub-species and the largest strong hold of sub-populations is on the island of Java.

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Threats

The major threats to Banteng are hunting and habitat loss. In Sabah habitat loss to permanent agriculture is a serious threat, although hunting is equally significant and the species has been rapidly exterminated from many areas there. Habitat loss has also been serious in Java since 1998. Elsewhere, hunting is the most widespread and significant threat, and is exacerbated especially in mainland Southeast Asia by human repopulation of lowland forest areas and associated habitat fragmentation, that is, the very areas where most Bantengs occur.

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Image: Domestic Banteng are hung to death every year within Baojiang, Rongshui, Guangxi China. The ceremony is yet another listed threat to the species as it also includes wild Banteng that the locals “and foreign tourists” consider non-cruel, a tradition that’s been ongoing for over 500 years. Wild Banteng are considered more important than domestic – of which places a considerable threat to the population despite some conflicting evidence that wild Banteng populations and few and little within China. Nevertheless the species is under immense threat.   

Although huge tracts of suitable habitat were lost in the twentieth century, and continue to be converted, this has probably largely occurred after Banteng have been hunted out. Thus, the hunting is the proximate cause of decline, but habitat loss is continually reducing the maximum population possible if hunting issues were to be controlled.

The magnitude of the threat posed to Banteng by international trade in trophy horns is difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, given the small size of the remaining Banteng population and the number of trophies found for sale in Cambodia, the Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam, during what were essentially opportunistic surveys, it is clearly a major threat on the Asian mainland. The threat posed by use of traditional medicinal substances derived from wild oxen is even harder to determine in the case of Banteng and essentially remains unknown, although it is thought to be a source of significant threat to Gaur.

The most important population in Cambodia is scattered through a forest landscape that encompasses four provinces (Mondulkiri, Kratie, Stung Treng and Ratanakiri) and five conservation areas (Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary, Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary, Siema Biodiversity Conservation Area, Mondulkiri Protection Forest (including the Srepok Wilderness Area) and Phnom Nam Lyr Wildlife Sanctuary).

Hunting is still rife in much of this area, and forest fragmentation is rapidly accelerating with human population in-migration, infrastructural developments (especially roads), commercial agricultural expansion, economic land speculation and mineral extraction. However, although perhaps less than 20% of this area is well protected from the aforementioned threats and protected area management is only close to effective in two areas, the most significant issue concerning the area is the long-term uncertainty of continuation of effective conservation management of the Srepok Wilderness Area and Siema Biodiversity Conservation Area.

Although conservation efforts for Banteng and many other species have been, in both areas, extremely encouraging for the last few years, both areas face an uncertain future with the possibility of de-gazettment of conservation status of parts of them, the possible loss of adequate external funding necessary to maintain high standards of management, the possible loss of political support necessary to uphold high protection standards and the uncertainties of maintaining a motivated and well-trained staff.

On Java some populations are potentially threatened by heavy predation from Dholes Cuon alphinus (a species I spoke about this Monday). All populations are also threatened by poaching and some, perhaps most, are threatened by habitat loss and degradation. During the 1980s–1990s, when poaching and land conversion were relatively well under control in Javan national parks, the chief threat to the large population of Banteng in Baluran National Park was loss of grazing area to invasion by the introduced tree Acacia nilotica (Leguminosae) that converts open grassland to dense thorny scrub-forest.

Banteng-Hunting - Click to view more.

Image: Introduced into Australia in the last century the species is hunted for sport despite the species being listed as endangered within its native range – very little money is raised for preservation of the species within Australasia. Hunting remains outside of Australia as the major number number one threat pushing the species and sub-species into more decline. 

This plant was introduced (without adequate risk assessment) as part of an attempt to create a living fire-break around the park’s grasslands, wild fire then being adjudged the major threat to the park’s monsoon forests. Since that introduction, repeated cutting of the acacia has led to coppicing into very dense thickets that contain little or no grass or other herbs and are difficult for the cattle to penetrate. Thus habitat loss and poaching are now serious limiting factors in Baluran National Park, and habitat loss/degradation remains a severe long-term threat to be addressed. Lantana camara (Verbenaceae) is also a problem in Banteng habitat in Baluran National Park and elsewhere on Java.

Bali cattle have long been interbred with other cattle: Banteng and Bali cattle can interbreed with both common cattle and mithan (Bos frontalis). Hybrids between Banteng and common cattle (Bos Taurus) of the zebu type are fully fertile; in hybrids between Banteng and Bos Taurus of the European type the males are sterile. Domestic and feral livestock are thus a potential threat to the genetic integrity of wild Banteng populations and a number of reports suggest that wild Banteng does interbreed with domestic cattle.

For example, Hoogerwerf (1970) referred to several sources from the 1930s and 1940s which mention that many groups of Banteng in Kalimantan (particularly East Kalimantan) were no longer pure-bred having interbred with stray domestic cattle. Wharton (1957) also found evidence of interbreeding with domestic cattle in Cambodia; and reports from Myanmar mention that Banteng feed alongside village cattle and occasionally interbreed with them.

In addition to the genetic threat, domestic livestock are a potential source of diseases and parasites. This can have very serious consequences for Banteng which appear to be particularly susceptible to a number of cattle diseases; for example, Banteng populations in Myanmar have been very badly affected by diseases from domestic cattle.

Introgression with domestic cattle is not presently an issue in Sabah; there have been imports of Bali cattle mostly by large cattle farms who house animals in feedlots away from wild populations. Ahmad AH is unaware of any instances of deliberate introduction of Bali cattle or other domestic oxen into forest areas, or of any plantation holders that have deliberately introduced their cattle into the range of wild Banteng. Although integration of livestock into oil palm plantation has been discussed for many years, this has not yet been put into practice.

In all due respects its quite likely were going to lose the species due to unregulated hunting, controlled over hunting, poaching, traditional medicine trade, habitat destruction and fragmentation, land conversion and agriculture.

Video: Female Banteng

Thank you for reading.

 

Dr Jose C. Depre

info@international-animalrescue-foundation.org.uk

With thanks and much appreciation to the Environmental Team at – International Animal Rescue Foundation Asia.