Two Critically Endangered Javan Rhino Babies Spotted in Indonesia

The newly spotted rhino calf, with mother looking on.
The newly spotted rhino calf, with mother looking on.
Image: Environment and Forestry Ministry

Conservationists in Indonesia are celebrating the birth of two Javan rhinos—a species listed as critically endangered and one of the rarest large mammals on Earth.

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Introducing Helen and Luther, two Javan rhino calves spotted by camera traps at Ujung Kulon National Park in western Java, Indonesia. This 12,600-acre park is the only spot on Earth to host these rare rhinos, which were once widespread throughout Eurasia and Africa but are now on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry announced the discovery of the young male and female on September 20 in commemoration of the country’s National Nature Conservation Day, reports Antara, an Indonesian news agency.

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Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus) have one horn and loose folds of skin bearing a resemblance to armor plating. Adults are typically 10 feet long (3 meters) and can stand over 5 feet tall (1.5 meters). They’re one of only five rhino species still left in the world, with Ujung Kulon being their exclusive home.

Camera trap footage shows Helen, the female calf.
Camera trap footage shows Helen, the female calf.
Image: Environment and Forestry Ministry

The ministry installed nearly 100 camera traps at the park between March and August of this year, reports Agence France-Presse. Ujung Kulon is a protected national park in Banten province, featuring lush rainforests and freshwater streams.

The population of Javan rhinos was down to just 62 individuals in 2013, the result of poaching and loss of habitat. Four Javan rhinos were born in the park last year, and now Helen and Luther this year. In a statement, Wiratno, the director general of Nature Resources and Ecosystem Conservation at the Environment and Forestry Ministry, said these births are an encouraging sign, as it suggests the presence of a suitable habitat for the rhinos, including adequate access to food.

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And in fact, there’s reason to believe the population is rising; as of August 2020, there are now 74 Javan rhinos living in the park, including 40 bulls and 34 cows, according to the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

Indonesia is also working to preserve the two-horned Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), which, at fewer than 80 individuals left, is also on the brink of extinction. These rhinos—the smallest of all rhino species—are exclusive to Sumatra and Borneo.

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The other three extant rhino species include the greater one-horned rhino (also known as the Indian rhino, or Rhinoceros unicornis), the black rhino (Diceros bicornis), and the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum).

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Recent extinctions include the western black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis longipes), which was declared extinct by the IUCN in 2011, and the Indochinese Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus). While the birth of Helen and Luther is a good sign, this species remains on the brink.

George is a senior staff reporter at Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

The Javan rhino wasn’t once widespread through Eurasia and Africa. It was perhaps widespread through Java.

Extant rhino species were once collectively widespread through Eurasia and Africa, but those days are long gone.

ETA: This is really great news. Really really great news.