Rhino's survival boosted by calves

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The Independent Online

One of the world's rarest species, the Javan rhinoceros, is showing signs of recovery with the birth of four calves.

One of the world's rarest species, the Javan rhinoceros, is showing signs of recovery with the birth of four calves.

The species numbers only about 60 worldwide, but conservationists have identified four new calves in Indonesia, the rhino's main habitat. They believe that the births, the first recorded for four years, show the potential for further growth in the population.

The only viable population of the animals – one of five rhino species – lives in Ujung Kulon national park in Indonesia, where there are about 50. Another five to eight are in Can Tien national park in Vietnam.

An 18-month survey by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) found two new calves in Ujung Kulon and footprints from two others. The results were checked by comparing them with DNA analysis of rhino droppings.

Nazir Foead, of WWF Indonesia, said the aim was to increase the park's population to 80 animals and then relocate some to establish a second group elsewhere.

Rhino numbers in Ujung Kulon fell to between 25 and 30 in the 1930s, and some scientists say the depletion of the gene pool even in 60 individuals must be so serious that long-term survival of the species is in doubt.

Stuart Chapman, head of WWF UK's species programme, pointed out that the southern white rhino population of Africa had been down to 18 animals in the 1920s. Now, after an intensive programme of protection, there were 7,000."Nature has the capacity to adapt and survive, so we have to be optimistic."

The Javan species is grey in colour and has only one horn. Its skin is loose, giving it the appearance of armour plating.

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