New Delhi, Dec 25 (IANS) The recent discovery of four calves of the rare Javan rhino in an Indonesian jungle has raised hope among conservationists trying to save the species from extinction.
The Javan rhino or rhinoceros sondaicus is one of the world's most endangered species, with only around 60 animals known to exist in their main home in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java.
The latest discovery by conservationists this week raises to seven the total number of calves born in the park in the last three years, said Hadi Alikadri, head of the species programme of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia. He added that the finding also shows that the Javan rhinos have started breeding.
Experts say that of the five rhino species worldwide, the Javan and the Sumatran rhinos are most endangered today.
These two species are smaller than others - the greater one-horned rhinoceros found in India and Nepal and the double-horned African black and white rhinos.
Shrinking habitats due to expanding human activities and competition from other large herbivores across their range are thought to have pushed the rhinos to the brink of extinction. However, there are reports that some Javan rhinos have also been spotted in Vietnam.
In Ujung Kulon, the rhinos could not breed regularly due to unvafourable environmental conditions and competition from other large herbivores such as wild buffaloes to secure the limited grazing grounds, Alikadri said.
He said a type of plant widely grown but disliked by the rhinos also hampered their breeding in the park. Moreover, the Javan rhinos are sensitive to disturbances, which can force them to abort breeding that is limited to just once a year, he added.
In the recent past, widespread killing of the one-horned rhinos in India and Nepal had led to an abrupt fall in their numbers. Experts say these were poached for their horns used in traditional medicines and believed to possess aphrodisiacal properties.
However, due to conservation efforts in their main home in Assam's Kaziranga National Park in India and in the Chitwan National Park in Nepal in the past few years, the rhino numbers have bounced back. At present there are around 1,800 rhinos in Kaziranga alone.
The long-drawn Maoist unrest in Nepal was thought to have contributed to the decline in the rhino numbers in the Himalayan country as the wildlife authorities could not keep up their vigil against poachers in the park for fear of insurgency.
According to officials, it is not clear how many rhinos were killed during the 10 years of Maoist insurgency in Nepal.
(Sanjeeb Baruah can be contacted at email@example.com)