Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 10th, 2011
The Western Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) of Africa was declared officially extinct on November 10, 2011, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, who said that two other subspecies of rhinoceros were close to meeting the same fate. The future of megafauna worldwide is on the edge of extinction, various authorities now think.
The Northern White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) of central Africa is now “possibly extinct” in the wild and the Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) is ”probably extinct” in Vietnam, after poachers killed the last animal there in 2010. A small but declining population survives on the Indonesian island of Java.
Sad news came out of Vietnam on October 25, 2011: the Javan rhinoceros subspecies (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus), once endemic to Southeast Asia, was confirmed as extinct, according to WWF International. All of the rhinos in Vietnam were officially declared gone.
That was the second of the three Javan rhino subspecies to be hunted into extinction. The first, the Indian Javan rhinoceros (R. sondaicus inermis), disappeared more than a century ago. Now only the Indonesian Javan rhino (R. sondaicus sondaicus) remains alive, and it might not last much longer either. Just 50 or fewer of these animals are thought to exist in Ujung Kulon National Park on the island of Java.
There are two other Asian rhino species: the one-horned Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), which numbers about 3,000 animals in the wild, and the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), which has two subspecies with a combined population of less than 300 individuals. A third Sumatran rhino subspecies may or may not still exist. In addition, there are two African rhino species: the white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)—which includes the southern white rhino (the healthiest rhino subspecies, with more than 17,000 animals) and the northern white rhino, which is said to be down only only seven individuals in some reports—and the black rhino (Diceros bicornis), with three critically endangered subspecies (two of which are below 1,000 individuals) and a fourth subspecies that was last seen in the year 2000 and is now be declared as extinct.
What is now known to have been the last Vietnam Javan rhino (the subspecies’s official name) was killed by poachers. Genetic analysis of 22 dung samples collected in Vietnam’s Cat Tien National Park from 2009 to 2010 affirmed that the animal, found dead with a bullet in its leg and its horn removed in April 2010, was the final wild rhino in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Javan rhino. Scientific American.
“The last Javan rhino in Vietnam has gone,” Tran Thi Minh Hien, WWF-Vietnam country director, said in a prepared statement in October 2011. “It is painful that despite significant investment in the Vietnamese rhino population conservation efforts failed to save this unique animal. Vietnam has lost part of its natural heritage.”
The Vietnam Java rhino was actually thought extinct for more than 50 years, but it was rediscovered in 1988 when a single animal was killed by hunters. Since then, camera traps only captured a few images of the rhinos and the only time scientists actually laid eyes on one was the de-horned corpse found last year.
A Northern White Rhino seen at the Czech Zoo Kralove Dvur.
The species is now considered “possibly extinct” in the wild.
/ Ami Vitale / for msnbc.com
The IUCN said on Thursday November 10, 2011, that a quarter of all mammals are at risk of extinction, according to its updated Red List of endangered species. But the group added that species such as the Southern White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum) and the Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii or Equus przewalskii) have been brought back from the brink with successful conservation programs.
“Human beings are stewards of the Earth and we are responsible for protecting the species that share our environment,” said Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.
“In the case of both the Western Black Rhino and the Northern White Rhino, the situation could have had very different results if the suggested conservation measures had been implemented,” he added. “These measures must be strengthened now, specifically managing habitats in order to improve breeding performance, preventing other rhinos from fading into extinction.”
The WWF environmental campaign group last month said that the Javan Rhino found dead in Vietnam in 2010 was the country’s last, rendering the species all but the extinct.
Rhinoceros horns are a coveted ingredient in traditional Eastern medicine and rumored to cure or fend off cancer, although scientists say there is no evidence to support the claim.
The Associated Press, MSNBC, ICUN, WWF, and Reuters contributed to this report.