Tracker of Vietnam's last rhino still haunted by its death

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Dieu K'Giang at his dwelling on the edge of Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam's Central Highlands , where he still hopes to find traces of rhino

More than three years ago in late 2010, the last rhino in Vietnam was shot dead by a poacher, and it was confirmed a year later by the World Wildlife Fund that the species extinct in the country.

One man feels the pain of that loss until now as if he had lost a member of his own family.

"The rhino died"¦ no more"¦ done," Dieu K'Giang, who belongs to the S'tieng ethnic minority, told a Lao Dong reporter.

K'Giang, stationed in a remote area of the Central Highlands' Lam Dong Province which is the home of many S'tieng people and also a major part of Cat Tien national park where Javan rhinos lived, told the paper his pain is likely to last the rest of his life.

The people and animals had been co-existing peacefully for hundreds of years and K'Giang, now 73, had developed a bond with the last rhino.

When he himself said "no more," it was a firmer confirmation than any conservation organization in the world, as most of their conclusions were made thanks to him.

Born and brought up in the jungle, K'Giang was able to recognize the smell of the animal and knew well its routines and habits. He was hired by international experts to keep track of the animal.

International conservation groups and officials of Cat Tien National Park had consulted K'Giang on the animal's characteristics in order to follow it and take photos of it; and they left the job to him setting up photo traps and keeping a lookout for the rhino.

K'Giang said the animal lived like a ghost at the Cat Tien park, as if it was tired after its species was hunted so much.

Once the photos were taken, he had to return the cameras and films to the experts and now has none of the images of the animal, he said. 

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But he remembers clearly all the times he and the rhino had faced each other like "fellow dwellers" of the jungle.

Conservationists have debated if the rhino species in Vietnam was African or Indonesian Javan, but K'Giang described the animal simply as a rhino with one horn and a long back, that it is shorter than a buffalo, walking slowly while shaking its buttocks and sniffing around.

He said the rhino is a gentle giant, resting during the day and looking for food at night.

"It's too gentle in the wildlife, it cedes even to wild ducks while taking a bath at swamps."

The death of the animal has been haunting K'Giang, as the man had made it mission to protect it by any means.

He had not told anyone about its whereabouts, where it slept and where it looked for food. He only talked to the park rangers and scientists.

He just could not cover a large area and the animal was shot at a different side of the park, where people from the northern mountains just migrated to.

"I was shocked when my nephew informed me that my rhino had died," K'Giang recalled.

"He said people had found its corpse and a bullet in it."

K'Giang abandoned his cashew garden for several days and just laid at home, grieving over the rhino. "I missed it. I kept thinking about it."

He had thought about crossing the jungle to see where it died, but decided not to, imagining he would only see a skeleton.

"It's less painful if I just lay in bed."

Since then, K'Giang has talked to no one about rhinos, but is still walking around the jungle hoping to find traces of another one.

He has left his family and is living alone at a tent at the edge of the jungle.

He even feels angry with the animal. "It should not have gone that far for food," he said. "I would be still able to protect it if it had stayed around in this area."

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