Vietnam rhino death was a failure on all sides, NGO says

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Investigations into the death of rare Javan rhinoceros found in a Central Highlands park last April reveal that Vietnam's efforts at wildlife protection are insufficient, a World Wildlife Vietnam official said.

Sarah Brook, species coordinator for the conservation group WWF Vietnam, told Thanh Nien Weekly that the failure to protect rare animal species has occurred on multiple fronts.

According to the WWF, an autopsy conducted by experts from the US and the UK has revealed that the female rhino, whose carcass was found near a muddy riverbank in Cat Tien National Park on April 29 didn't die of old age, but as a result of the bullet injury. Its horn and upper jaw bone had been removed.

The animal, suspected of being the last of its kind in Vietnam, was shot in the leg probably two or more months before it died, the WWF said in a press release Thursday (January 20).

Dr. Ulrike Streicher, Wildlife Veterinarian and member of the forensic team, said the injuries caused by the bullet were extensive, resulting in severe damage, infection and impaired mobility for the animal.

While the population of the rhino in Cat Tien was not known when it was rediscovered in the 1980s, "our efforts were certainly inadequate in trying to protect the Javan rhino in Vietnam," Brook said.

"There was a failure on all parts to secure enough habitat for the population, reduce disturbance and prevent hunting of these valuable animals," she stressed.

Scott Roberton, Country Representative of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) - Vietnam Program, also raised the same concerns in an email to Thanh Nien Weekly.

"Why is it that Cat Tien National Park, with millions of dollars of international assistance in addition to government funding, has failed to protect this incredible animal?," he asked, urging the Vietnamese government to review its own performance and priorities in protecting the species.

According to Brooks, wildlife protection isn't a very high priority in Vietnam where protected areas suffer from a lack of resources and effective enforcement. Meanwhile poaching thrives.

"This is not a problem unique to Cat Tien but to all protected areas in Vietnam," she said.

She expressed hope that Vietnam will learn from what happened to the rhino and make needed changes.

Otherwise, other species like the Sao la (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), elephant, crested gibbons and the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey are sure to be the next, she said.

"WWF has learned lessons from the loss of the rhino," Brook said, adding that they are focusing more on species protection and working closely with their government partners.

In the meantime, following the latest findings, WWF and Cat Tien National Park urged local police to try to identify individuals involved in the hunting and trading of rhinos.

Brook said a DNA study into the status of the Javan rhino population has been delayed due to the lengthy process involved in obtaining the permits required in Vietnam and Canada to ship samples of the dead animal for analysis.

The species, which is perhaps the most endangered large mammal in the world, was first detected in Vietnam by a camera trap in May 1999. It was last photographed in December, 2005.

Rhino horns are prized for their use in traditional Chinese medicine. They may retail for at around US$30,000 per kilogram.

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