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'Year of the Rhino' Begins in Bid to Save Species

Sumatran Rhino
The Sumatran rhino, a critically endangered species. (Image credit: International Rhino Foundation (IRF) - Bill Konstant)

Alarm over the fate of the two rarest rhinoceros species — the Javan and Sumatran rhinos — has prompted Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to announce efforts to preserve the animals and to declare today (June 5) the beginning of the "International Year of the Rhino."

As part of the effort, Indonesian officials will take action to move animals into protected habitats and improve these areas to allow for their survival.

The announcement, made at the request of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and other conservation groups, follows Indonesian efforts to establish a rhino task force to enforce the protection and monitoring of remaining rhino populations, according to a IUCN statement.

A Javan rhino in Vietnam captured in a camera-trap photo. (Image credit: ©WWF-Greater Mekong)

All five species of rhinos worldwide are threatened with extinction, due in part to illegal hunting driven by demand for rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine. It is estimated that there are only about 50 Javan and 200 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild.

Conservation groups like the Wildlife Conservation Society said they hoped that all countries with rhinos in Africa and Asia will join Indonesia and give priority to protecting their rhino populations. This will require cracking down on the illegal hunting and trading of rhino horns, as well as taking steps to encourage a growth in rhino numbers.

In the last decade, two rhino subspecies — the western black rhinoceros in Cameroon and the Indochinese Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam — have gone extinct.

Effective conservation by governments and NGOs in Africa and Asia has been successful in bringing back the southern white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros and Indian rhinoceros from the brink of extinction.

This story was provided by OurAmazingPlanet, a sister site to LiveScience.

Live Science Staff
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