AN ESSAY

We must safeguard the web of life and care about the other living species that we share this planet with. Pygmy tarsiers eat and host bugs that we’ve seen at home — insects, spiders, lizards, bedbugs, lice, fleas, roundworms, and tapeworms. The vaquitas are preyed upon by large sharks and killer whales, keeping them away from us. But only 10 vaquitas are left and in their absence, the diet of sharks and whales may change. A tiger in the wild indicates that the forest it inhabits is healthy and diverse. As of now, there are 3,900 tigers in the wild globally, and more than twice as many (8,000) in captivity. By protecting the web of life, we build a kinder world for everyone.

The Javan Rhino, only found in Ujung Kulon National Park, Java, Indonesia, is critically endangered. It’s not just because only 75 of them are alive, but also because the park where they are located is too small for a growing future population.

They are the most threatened of all five rhino species. Their small population may lead to inbreeding, which will cause poor genetic variability. Forthcoming rhinos will be more vulnerable to disease.

Javan Rhinos, the second smallest rhino globally, have the smallest horn of all rhinos, at 10 inches. If its horn is broken, a new one will grow. Only the male Javan rhino has a horn.

The Javan rhino never reproduces in captivity. However, 25 individuals were placed at Ujung Kulon National Park in 1967. Today, they number 75, but the Park is too small for more Javan rhinos, so a new area is being studied to accommodate this growing population. Also, Ujung Kulon is near a volcano that has instigated tsunami waves in the past.

In Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam, the last Javan rhino was killed by poachers, for its horn, making them extinct in the country in 2011. There is an excessive demand for their horns as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine for pain and fever, despite studies showing that no medicinal value is in the horn.

A Day in its Life

A Javan rhino spends more than half of the day in mud holes for their body temperature, to prevent sunburn, eliminate skin parasites, and avoid insects. If the mudhole is too small, the Javan rhino will deepen it with its horn and feet, turning puddles into pools. It is believed that Javan rhinos depend on the forest for protection from solar radiation.

After the Javan rhino is done relaxing, it will look for food. It will scrape the sides of its mud hole with its horn for plants. Then it will leave the hole and seek thick vegetation on the ground.

In the absence of a horn, this rhino still has its pointed upper lip to grab food. Its diet is a rich variety of leaves, shoots, twigs, and fruits. In one day it will eat as much food as a healthy person will eat in one year.

Still Much to Learn

Scientists say there is much to learn about the Javan rhino’s biology. They are observing the rhino and studying its dung. Javan rhinos don’t communicate vocally, although they’re capable of making sounds.

Instead, they communicate through, first, a spray of urine, second, a secretion from its foot glands, third, twisted saplings, and fourth, scrapes on the ground made with secretions released from its foot.

An example of a Javan rhino sound can be heard here. They have more aggressive sounds when two males fight over a female, or when a male and female fight before mating.

Scientists use camera traps to better understand this rhinoceros. Some things they have learned:

  1. Unlike humans that have evolved steadily to the way we look today, the Javan Rhino is believed to have remained unchanged for over one million years.

  2. Space. If you keep a silent, respectful distance from a Javan rhino, you will be allowed to observe it and photograph it until it tires and moves away. This was the experience of wildlife photographer Stephen Belcher.

  3. However, you mustn’t approach a javan rhino. Otherwise, they will attack humans by plunging their long sharp lower teeth into your body.

  4. Solitary animals. The Javan rhino lives alone, but may sometimes be with other rhinos in places rich with mud holes for wallowing, or areas where there is a large deposit of mineral salts. The rhinos use these salt licks to get essential nutrients like calcium, sodium, magnesium, and zinc.

  5. Occasionally young Javan rhinos will come together in pairs or small groups.

  6. Javan rhinos also interact during mating season, or when a female is caring for its young. A Javan rhino female is pregnant for 16 to 19 months and gives birth to a single calf every 2 ½ to 5 years. On very rare occasions, she’ll bear two calves. The calf separates from its mother at three years old. The lifespan of a Javan rhino is from 35-40 years in the wild.

  7. Courtship behavior is one of the rare times this animal will vocalize. Sometimes males will use their saber-like sharp incisors to fight each other during mating season for a female. Other times, a male and female Javan rhino will fight and growl loudly, followed by mating. In other cases, a male and female rhino may eat vegetation together. Suddenly, they’ll engage in a 200 meters long chase.

  8. Javan rhinos have poor eyesight, but their smelling and hearing are keen.

  9. Forest: Although the Javan rhino prefers ground vegetation to tree vegetation, they still use the forest for protection from solar radiation. Also, a forest has fewer water supply fluctuations. They also eat saplings from forest trees. The Javan rhino’s habitat requires a mesh of glades, and patches of forest.

Threats to the Javan rhino

At the start of the 20th century, 500,000 Rhinoceroses ran through much of Southeast Asia including Calcutta, India, Borneo, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, the Sumatra, and Java. They lived in tropical rainforests, floodplains, and grasslands.

Now, there are only 29,000 rhinoceroses left in the world. Out of that number, 75 are Javan rhinos with only one habitat, Ujung Kulon National Park. Despite this, there are still some dangers, such as:

  1. The 2018 tsunami, caused by the eruption of the nearby Anak Krakatau volcano, resulted in 10 feet high waves. Four hundred and thirty people died, two park rangers among them. Park buildings and ships were destroyed. This tsunami hit the north coast. If it had hit the south coast, all the Javan rhinos left in the world would have died.

  2. Anak Krakatau volcano is active. In August 1883, Krakatau erupted, resulting in 60 feet high waves. This volcano can wipe out the entire Javan rhino population in one fell swoop.

  3. Arengu palm. This invasive tree has overtaken 60% of Ujung Kulon National Park. It’s a tall tree, and its fronds block sunlight needed for ground vegetation. This results in food reduction and poor nutritional quality of what remains. The WWF is removing the Arenga palm trees, and restoring natural vegetation and food plants for the rhinos.

  4. Disease. In 1981 and 1982, five rhinos died in Ujung Kulon. The Morris Animal Foundation blamed the tabanid flies, horse flies, and deer flies, all of which can spread parasites that result in hemorrhagic septicemia, an acute, highly fatal form of pasteurellosis, causing death. A free vaccination program for livestock by the local government is in progress to address this.

  5. Habitat loss. Ujung Kulon is the last remaining habitat for the critically endangered Javan rhino species. However, another location is being eyed and studied to see if it can accommodate Javan rhinos.

  6. Poaching. In colonial times Javan rhinos were displayed as trophies. Now, they’re hunted for their horns. This continues to threaten the 75 Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon.

What is Being Done

Many conservationist groups are working to save ecosystems, plants, and other animals by saving the Javan rhino first. Some groups doing this are:

  1. Save The Rhino. This group seeks to produce 2,000 to 2,500 Javan rhinos within the next 150 years. This is the number required for Javan rhinos for possible long-term survival. They do this by:

  • Protecting the Javan rhinos and their habitat.
  • Searching for new habitats to translocate Javan rhinos.
  • Providing ranger kits that include quality shoes, backpacks, and accommodation.
  • Expanding Dog squads to track and apprehend poachers.
  • Detecting illegally smuggled wildlife products.
  • Funding for veterinary interventions.
  • Providing transmitters and radio frequency tags to help track rhinos in the wild.
  1. WWF. The World Wildlife Fund and its partners found a possible habitat area for new Javan rhinos. As a result, they are: Conducting a feasibility study of the habitat.

  • Establishing management structures
  • Enlisting surrounding communities to protect the area. Engaging scientific research to inform conservation and management efforts.
  • Planning to remove all Arenga palm trees in Ujung Kulon
  • Planting suitable vegetation for the rhinos.
  • Patrolling against poachers with community help.
  • Addressing illegal trade through local and international law enforcement to subject traffickers to justice.
  1. The Morris Foundation funds studies focused on saving the Javan rhino.

  2. The International Rhino Foundation and the staff of Ujung Kulon National Park protect the Javan rhino. Javan rhinos are the flagship species of the Western Java Rainforests ecoregion.

Ecological Importance of the Javan Rhino

The Javan rhino does a lot of good for an ecosystem. For example:

  1. Javan rhinos keep an ecosystem healthy and balanced. By consuming so much vegetation, they help shape the landscape and keep plant life populations in check, and permit soil space for new plants to grow. Other animals in the ecosystem also benefit from this.

  2. The Javan is the most adaptable feeder of all rhino species. Biologists have identified 300 species of food that they eat.

  3. Javan rhinos topple vegetation and crush it with their feet and body weight, so it can wallow in the mud. This provides natural plant trimming that strengthens the forest. It also stores CO2 and releases clean air.

  4. Many plants and animals cohabit an area with Javan rhinos. Protecting the rhinos keeps all plants and animals in the ecosystem protected too, such as antelopes, buffalo, elephants, and large carnivores.

  5. Local people depend on natural resources from the rhino’s habitat for food and fuel. Ecotourism can generate income for locals.