Year Of The Rhino Aims To Save The Last Of The Species

By Chelsea Whyte on June 6, 2012 2:47 PM EDT

Indonesian White Rhinos
Can we save the critically endangered Indonesian White Rhinos during the Year of the Rhino? (Photo: Krishna Kumar)

The alarmingly low numbers of rhinoceroses left in the world prompted Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to declare 2012 International Rhino Year during World Environment Day in Jakarta on Tuesday.

'We've agreed to preserve rhinoceros, which live in mere 11 countries now, and prevent their extinction," Yudhoyono said during his environment day speech at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, reports The Jakarta Globe. 

Indonesia is home to two critically endangered rhino subspecies, the northern white rhino and the mainland population of Sumatran rhinos. The latest data shows that there are currently just 35 to 40 Javan rhinos in Indonesia, the total world population of the subspecies. Sumatran rhinos have a population of about 200, mostly located on the Southern tip of the island.

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"Sumatran and Javan rhinos are among the most threatened species on Earth," says Dr. Susie Ellis, the executive director of the International Rhino Foundation. "Unprecedented threats such as habitat loss and poaching have pushed these species, which have walked the Earth for more than 50 million years, towards a very real probability of extinction within our lifetime."

With the extinction of two rhino subspecies in the last decade - the western black rhinoceros in Cameroon and the Indochinese Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam - rhino populations are in bad shape around the world.

All five remaining species of rhinoceros are threatened with extinction, due in part to illegal hunting driven by demand for rhino horns used in traditional Chinese medicine, according to Yahoo News.

"We urge all rhino range states, as well as the counties in which there is demand for rhino horn, to participate in this initiative," said Simon Stuart of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, according to Times Live.

The World Wildlife Fund supports the initiative and said on their website, "There is an urgent need to decrease pressures on habitats and to establish a second Javan rhino population in a safer and suitable location."

The government of Indonesia has committed to establishing a rhino task force of experts and to fund efforts to monitor and enforce protection of the remaining rhino populations.

"Saving Rhinos requires protecting their habitat from further fragmentation and degradation, and dealing effectively with illegal wildlife trade," says Robert Mather of IUCN. "Both actions will also benefit hundreds of other species sharing the forest with the rhinos as well as tens of thousands of people who are supported by the ecosystem services generated by the rhinos forest home."

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