By John Ruwitch
An endangered Javan rhinoceros found dead in Vietnam last year was the country's last, rendering the species all but the extinct, WWF reported on Tuesday. Only a small population now remains in Indonesia.
Genetic analysis of 22 dung samples collected in Vietnam's Cat Tien National Park from 2009 to 2010 affirmed that the animal, found dead with a bullet in its leg and its horn removed in April 2010, was the final wild rhino in Vietnam. Poaching was the likely cause of death, WWF said in a report.
"It is painful that despite significant investment in the Vietnamese rhino population, conservation efforts failed to save this unique animal. Vietnam has lost part of its natural heritage," a statement quoted Tran Thi Minh Hien, WWF-Vietnam Country Director, as saying.
Rhinoceros horns are a coveted ingredient in traditional Eastern medicine and rumored to cure or fend off cancer, although scientists say there is no evidence to support the claim.
WWF said the Javan rhino was believe to be extinct from mainland Asia until 1988 when one was hunted from the Cat Tien area, leading to the discovery of a small population.
Despite the efforts of a number of organizations to protect the remaining beasts, "ineffective protection by the park was ultimately the cause of extinction," it said.
The Javan rhinoceros, critically endangered, is now believed to be confined to one population of less than 50 individuals in a small national park in Indonesia, WWF said.
Despite restrictions, the wildlife trade remains an active threat to a range of other endangered animals. Vietnamese state media reported on Monday that customs officers seized more than a tonne of elephant tusks hidden in a shipment bound for China.