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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 00:35 GMT 01:35 UK
Javan rhinos a little less rare
Rhino calf Yahya and Sumiadi/WWF and BTNUK
One of Ujung Kulon's four calves: This one photographed itself on 14 January, 2001
Alex Kirby

One of the world's most endangered large mammals, the Javan rhinoceros, is showing signs of recovery.

The worldwide population of the animals, one of five rhino species, is about 60 individuals.

Conservationists say they have found evidence that four calves were born over the last two years in Indonesia, the Javan rhinos' main stronghold.

And they believe the births show the potential for further growth in the population.

The only viable population of Javan rhinos lives in Ujung Kulon national park in Indonesia. There are thought to be around 50 animals there.

Another five rhinos, possibly as many as eight, are in Cat Tien national park in Vietnam. Sometimes called Vietnamese rhinos, they belong to the Javan species.

An 18-month survey by WWF, the global environment campaign, and the park authority has found that four calves have been born in Ujung Kulon since April 1999.

With the support of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, WWF Indonesia and the park managers began a camera-trapping survey in January last year, and obtained images, triggered by the animals themselves, of one mother rhino and two calves.

Hopes for more

The footprints of two more calves have also been found, though they have so far proved camera-shy.

The survey results have been checked by comparison with DNA analysis of rhino droppings.

Rhino mother Yahya and Sumiadi/WWF and BTNUK
This female rhino is known to have calved
The rhino population of Ujung Kulon had fallen to between 25 and 30 animals in the 1930s. The latest calves are the first births recorded in four years.

Nazir Foead, of WWF Indonesia, said: "The births are a significant step, and indicate that the rhinoceroses are breeding with potential for further population gains after years of zero growth.

"The aim of WWF and the park authority is to build the population up to the habitat's carrying capacity of about 80 animals.

"Once this is achieved, it will allow for the translocation of other animals to form a founding group for a second Javan rhino population in Indonesia."

Example from Africa

Some scientists say the depletion of the gene pool in a population of 60 animals will be so great that their long-term survival must be in doubt.

But Stuart Chapman, head of WWF UK's species programme, told BBC News Online: "The greatest cause for optimism is the southern white rhino of Africa.

"That was down to a total of 18 animals in the early 1920s, when intensive protection began.

"Now, there are more than 7,000 of them in South Africa, all of them descendants of that original group.

"There is the risk of genetic weakness with the Java rhinos. But Nature, thank God, has the capacity to adapt and survive, so we have to be optimistic."

Images by Yahya and Sumiadi, WWF & BTNUK

See also:

28 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Growing threat to rare species
15 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
First photos of rarest rhino
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