A skeleton of rare rhinoceros has been found at a national park in Vietnam's central highlands province of Lam Dong, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said on Monday.
The skeleton, found buried under a muddy riverbank in Cat Tien National Park on April 29, was identified as a female Javan Rhinoceros, which is listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Initial tests showed that the one-horned rhino, weighed nearly one ton and died some five months ago, according to park officials and experts.
Some of its parts, including the horn, were nowhere to be found, said Cat Tien forest ranger Vu Van Khoi. The missing horn meant poachers were likely culprits in the death.
Rhino horns are extremely valuable for their use in traditional Chinese medicine. They are sold at US$30,000 per kilogram.
Remnants of bullets, meanwhile, were found on the bones, according to Tran Dinh Thu, head of Lam Dong police's social criminal investigation agency PC14.
A WWF representative said on Tuesday that it was very likely that the rhino was shot to death before having its horn cut, as they also found knife wounds on the animal's forehead.
On the other hand, a leader of the national park who wished to remain anonymous said they didn't find any human traces around the place where they found the skeleton.
The rhino probably buried itself before dying, as it is the habit of Vietnam's one-horned rhino, he said.
Nguyen Duc Hiep, director of the Lam Dong police department, said local police had launched an investigation into the rhino's death, while samples have also been sent overseas for further tests.
Scientific research shows that populations of the large mammal are now only found on Java Island in Indonesia, between 40-50, and even less in Vietnam's Cat Tien National Park.
Cat Tien National Park Director Tran Van Thanh said between three and five Javan rhinos are living there.
The species, which is perhaps the most endangered large mammal in the world, was first detected in Vietnam by automatic photographs in May 1999. It was last photographed, also automatically, in December, 2005.
Between last October and this April foreign experts have visited the park to reasearch the animal and have collected 30 samples, including dung, to send to Canada for analysis and tests, according to Thanh.