Environmentalists say Sumatran rhino on the brink of extinction

BANDAR LAMPUNG, INDONESIA (BNO NEWS) -- Indonesian environmentalists on Thursday warned that the Sumatran rhinoceros in Lampung province is on the brink of extinction due to hunting and habitat destruction, just weeks after the Western Black Rhinoceros was declared extinct.

Indonesian Rhino Foundation chairman Widodo Ramono said the rhino population is now about 30 in Way Kambas National Park in Lampung province and 80 in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. He noted that their low reproduction rates are being further affected by climate change and the human impact on their environment, the Antara news agency reported.

Specialists believe the population of the Sumatran rhino, which is one of the three species of rhinos in Asia and the only one with two horns, is somewhere between 180 and 200 in all of Indonesia, with around 120 of them being in the province of Lampung alone.

During the last 15 years, the Sumatran rhino population has declined by 50 percent, making it one of the most endangered rhino species in the world. The species is found from northeastern India through Southeast Asia in Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Malaysia and the Indonesian Islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

At a biological natural resource and ecosystem conservation meeting in Bandar Lampung, the capital of Lampung, Widodo noted that only humans can prevent the Sumatran rhinoceros from becoming extinct as much of its threats come from poaching activities, hunting them for their horns and organs used in traditional medicinal practices, as well as poorly enforced protections laws.

Currently, killing a rhino in Indonesia carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a Rp 300,000 ($33) fine. Widodo said that these maximum sentences are too weak and stressed the importance of revising animal protection laws in order to fight the rhinos' extinction.

Earlier this month, the International Union for the Conservative of Nature (IUCN) declared Africa's Western Black Rhinoceros to be extinct. The rhino subspecies was once widespread in central-west Africa, but the Western Black Rhinoceros became heavily hunted in the beginning of the 20th century.

Although preservation actions in the 1930s allowed the species to partially recover, protection efforts later declined. By 2000, only about a dozen Western Black Rhinoceros were thought to be alive, and a survey in 2006 found none to be alive. No sightings of the animal have been reported since, and none were held in captivity.

According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), 330 rhinos have been killed this year alone, poached for their horns which are popular in medicine markets across South East Asia. Demand for the horn is at an all time high, with prices reaching more than $50,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds).

Last month, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Rhino Foundation confirmed that Javan rhinoceros have also been driven to complete extinction in Vietnam. With the complete extinction in Vietnam, only one small group remains in the wild: the 40 to 50 Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon in Indonesia.

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