In a rare bright spot for rhino conservation, two new Javan rhino calves have been spotted in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park. Before these babies, there were only 67 confirmed Javan rhinos left on Earth.
The rarest of the five rhino species and “probably the rarest large mammal on the planet” according to the World Wildlife Fund, the Javan rhino has been on life support for decades. After being whittled down to fewer than 30 individuals by the late 1960s, the species rebounded to about 60 by 1980. The population has hovered around that number ever since.
According to SaveTheRhino, the animals once ranged over vast swaths of Southeast Asia but, like other rhino species, have been decimated by habitat destruction and poaching.
The two new Javan rhino calves, which have not yet been named, were spotted on camera trap footage from February, according to a news release that Ujung Kulon National Park issued Thursday. The announcement of their birth was bittersweet, coming alongside news that rangers discovered an adult male Javan rhino dead on a beach on April 23. According to a press release issued by World Wildlife Fund-Indonesia, the animal’s death doesn’t appear to have been caused by poaching or disease, a relief seeing as a disease could easily wipe out what remains of the species.
Officials currently believe the rhino died of old age, according to Mongabay.
The fact that a handful of rhino births and deaths are garnering widespread attention underscores the species’ perilous state. Authorities say a second population of Javan rhinos urgently needs to be established to prevent some disaster from killing them off. A study published in Conservation Letters last year suggested a single large tsunami could do exactly that.
Perhaps the two new calves—plus the three born several years back—could (one day) be among those moved to a new location to found that second population. Study co-author Brian Gerber of the University of Rhode Island seemed to think so, telling Earther via email that the births were “great news” while emphasizing the need to grow the Ujung Kulon National Park population and safely translocate a group somewhere else.
It’s been a rough year for rhinos. In March, the world mourned the death of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino. With just two infertile females left in Kenya, the only hope for the subspecies’ resurrection lies in a sci-fi sounding combination of assisted reproduction and stem cell technologies.