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Poachers kill world’s rarest rhino in Vietnam

Poachers have killed a Javan rhino in Vietnam for its horn according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). With only an estimated 60 individuals left the Javan rhino is the world’s rarest and classified by the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. The rhino was found dead from a gunshot wound and its horn cut off in Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam.

“This is devastating news for rhino conservation and Vietnam,” Dung Huynh Tien, National Policy Coordinator of WWF Vietnam, said in a news report. “The loss of this rhino is symbolic of the grim situation facing endangered species like the rhino and tiger across Vietnam.”

Although the Javan rhinoceros once occurred across Southeast Asia (including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and maybe even Southern China) and Indonesian islands like Sumatra and Java, today the rhino survives in only two places: Java and Vietnam. The larger population is in Java. Researchers don’t know how many rhinos survive in Vietnam, but it may be as few as six.

The killed rhino also represents a unique subspecies (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) from the Javan population. Already one of the Javan rhino’s subspecies, once present in India, went extinct in the early Twentieth Century. There are no Javan rhinos in captivity.

Researchers with WWF have recently carried out a survey of this especially tenuous population of rhinos in Vietnam, though their results are awaiting DNA analysis.

Rhino poaching has risen steadily recently both in Africa and Asia, hitting a 15-year-high in 2009. Rhinos are killed for their horns which are used in Chinese medicines as a curative, although there is no scientific evidence that the horns are effective. All of the world’s five species of rhinos are currently threatened with extinction due to the black market trade in horns.

Javan rhino mother and calf in the wild. Video by WWF.

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