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World’s Rarest Rhinos Found In War-Ravaged Region Of Vietnam

April 24, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ A small population of the world’s rarest rhinoceros has been found in a war-ravaged region of Vietnam not far from Ho Chi Minh City, officials said Monday.

The Javan rhinoceros somehow survived decades of war and defoliation in the eastern part of Vietnam’s Song Be province, said George Schaller, director of Wildlife Conservation International, a division of the New York Zoological Society.

The rhinos had been thought extinct in Vietnam since the 1960s, except for about 50 living on the western tip of the island of Java.

″It was suspected that some still survived in Indochina, but there was no definite evidence of them,″ Schaller said in a telephone interview.

The dark gray Javan rhinoceros is roughly similar to the African black rhinoceros, but is chunkier and has heavy skin folds that give it an armored look. An adult weighs 3,500 pounds, stands 5 1/2 feet tall and is up to 11 1/ 2 feet long.

Live animals themselves were not sighted, but a dead one was found and there were fresh tracks, Schaller said.

The size of the rhino population is not known, but ″my guess would be no more than 10 to 15,″ Schaller said.

Schaller, who has tracked endangered animals all over the globe, most recently in China and Tibet, found the rhinos’ tracks during an expedition to Vietnam in February and March.

He was there with Vo Thanh Son of the University of Hanoi and Nguyen Yuan Dang and Le Dinh Thuy of Vietnam’s national research council to make the first wildlife survey of Vietnam’s southern forests.

The tracks were found along the Dong Nai River, about 75 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

The find is important not only because it improves the survival odds for the Javan rhinoceros, but also because the rhinos can be used to encourage preservation of wilderness in Vietnam, Schaller said.

″You may well say that the rhino is a national treasure of Vietnam,″ he said. ″But the real treasure is the habitat there, the forest.

″Many of these ... charismatic species are in effect symbols, flagship species, in that they arouse emotions. They motivate a government to protect an area, because they get popular support.″

The region where the rhinos were found is a hot, humid patchwork of forest, native tribesmen’s fields and huge expanses of bamboo up to 40 feet tall, Schaller said.

″The Vietnamese are real conscious of conservation, and I think they’ll make an effort″ to protect the rhinos, Schaller said.

He recommended stiff penalties for killing rhinos and selling them, and the enlargement of a wilderness reserve near where the rhinoceroses were found. In Vietnam, as elsewhere in Asia, rhino horn is used as a constituent of many different medicines, he said.

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