Projects: Cat Tien

Vietnam's last Javan rhinos

The Javan rhino once ranged from Assam, India through Indochina, south along the Malaysian Peninsula and across the islands of Sumatra and Java.

These magnificent animals were widely killed by trophy hunters during colonial times, as agricultural pests, and for their horn, a highly prized commodity in traditional Chinese medicine. This species, hunted to the brink of extinction, is now perhaps the most endangered large mammal in the world.

By the 1960s, the only known refuge for this species was in Ujung Kulon National Park, located on the western-most tip of the island of Java in Indonesia. WWF has worked in Ujung Kulon since 1964, where efforts have helped the park's rhino population grow to between 50-60 animals today.

In the late 1980s, western scientists were surprised to discover Javan rhinos clinging to survival in a small unprotected forest patch in Vietnam. WWF is working to protect this remnant Javan rhino population and its forest habitat.

Cat Tien National Park and the Javan Rhino: Last Refuge for a Lost Animal
Although this species has persisted perilously close to the brink of extinction for the last four decades, the Javan rhino was not always a rare animal. The species once ranged over a vast portion of Southeast Asia, occurring in three distinct subspecies.

Three rhino subspecies
The dominant form (Rhinoceros sondaicus sondaicus) survives only in Ujung Kulon. The subspecies once found in Bengal, Assam, and Myanmar (Rhinoceros sondaicus inermis) is now extinct. The third subspecies (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) was feared extinct until the 1980's, when a population of less then 10 animals was discovered clinging to survival in an unprotected forest in Vietnam.

In 1992, the 30,635 hectare Cat Loc Rhino Sanctuary was declared to protect the Javan rhinos' forest in Vietnam. In 1998, the Sanctuary was administratively integrated with Cat Tien National Park, improving its legal status, although the original Cat Loc forest remains geographically separated from the rest of Cat Tien National Park by a belt of agricultural land.

Park location
Cat Tien National Park, now one of Vietnam's largest protected areas, is situated on the southern edge of the Annamites, a mountain range that runs north along the borders that Vietnam shares with Cambodia and Lao PDR.

Cat Tien National Park itself overlaps both terrestrial and freshwater Global 200 ecoregions. In 1999, the first known images of Vietnam's Javan Rhinos were captured in camera traps supported by WWF, proving without question that this species was not extinct in Indochina as once believed.

Low population estimates
Censuses conducted in 1998 and 1999 estimated Cat Tien National Park's rhino population to consist of a minimum of 5-6 rhinos and a maximum of 7-9 animals. This number is considerably lower than the population estimates from 1990 and 1993.

Between 1990 and 1998, a string of new settlements within the protected area prevented rhinos from ranging into about 85% of their habitat. Prior to the integration of the Cat Loc area into Cat Tien National Park in 1998, the area received protection by 7 forest guards.

Recent improvements
Since February 1999, an average of 20 forest guards have been deployed in Cat Loc by Vietnamese government authorities. WWF has been supporting these teams with equipment and allowances so that they can better execute their duties and spend more time out on patrol.

The increased presence of park guards benefits a small number of wild Asian elephants and tigers that also live in the park, as well as the many other endangered species that have disappeared from other parts of Asia, but still remain in Cat Tien National Park.

5 facts about Cat Tien National Park

  • Spans 73,878 hectares in two contiguous forest blocks: the hilly Cat Loc (30,435 ha.) at the southern edge of Vietnam's central plateau and Nam and Cay Cat Tien (43,443 ha.) further south in the monsoon tropical region.
  • Represents both terrestrial and freshwater Global 200 ecoregions for outstanding biodiversity of global significance: Annamite Range Moist Forests and Mekong River.
  • Part of the Forests of the Lower Mekong complex - a conglomerate of adjacent ecoregions in Indochina.
  • Selected as one of WWF's Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS) top priorities for its population of Javan rhinos.
  • Provides habitat for other endangered species, including the gaur, tiger, orange-necked partridge, white-winged duck, and Siamese crocodile.

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