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Scientists Find Surviving Members of Rhino Species

June 22, 1993

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) _ Scientists have found about a dozen surviving members of a rhinoceros species believed to have been wiped out by Vietnam War-era bombs and defoliants and local poachers.

The government will consider this month whether to do more to protect the one-horned Javan rhinoceros by creating what would become the country’s largest national park.

The Javan rhinoceros once thrived in jungles throughout Vietnam. But scientists thought it died out in the late 1960′s because of overhunting and tons of American bombs and herbicides dropped on its habitat during the war.

The species was not extinct. About 60 Javan rhinoceroses were then known to live on a reserve in western Java, Indonesia.

But after a Vietnamese hunter killed an adult female in 1988, scientific surveys indicated that as many as 15 rhinos still live in the swamps and thickets of Lam Dong province, 124 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City.

″This is the last population, we think, in Indochina. That is why it’s very precious to save them,″ said Professor Vo Quy of Hanoi University, who helped organize a 1989 survey. ″But I must tell you, it’s not easy.″

Quy said tribal people value the mammal’s hide as an antidote to snake venom, and some Chinese believe powder made from the horn can enhance virility.

Forestry ministry officials created the Cat Loc Rhinoceros Sanctuary in December 1992, setting aside 116 square miles in western Lam Dong province.

Dr. Nguyen Nhu Phuong, manager of Vietnam’s national parks and wildlife reserves, said local hunters were hired to become keepers.

The government will consider this month whether to combine the sanctuary with nearby Nam Cat Tien nature reserve. The combined 270-square-mile reserve would be the largest of Vietnam’s national parks.

The World Wildlife Fund, based in Switzerland, donated $40,000 this year to help Vietnam save the Javan rhinoceros. But Vu Van Dung, of the forestry ministry, said preserving the animals could cost about $1 million.

While tourists could also provide money, they might frighten the shy creatures and discourage them from breeding. Even under ideal conditions, the species’ survival with such a small number of individuals is uncertain.

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