Indonesia’s tsunami has raised fears over the final few Javan rhinos in the wild at the Ujung Kulon National Park on the western tip of Java.
There are believed to be only 67 of the critically endangered mammals in the national park near the volcano, Anak Krakatau, that caused Saturday’s tsunami.
None of the rhinos is believed to have been killed by the wave, which left more than 400 people dead and over 1,500 injured, but the authorities fear another tsunami might hit.
Anak Krakatau is again becoming increasingly active with “Strombolian” eruptions, which are short-lived, explosive blasts of lava.
The eruption was devastating to the park, with two employees killed and its buildings and ships destroyed, but the rhinos appear to be unharmed.
Conservationists are looking to find a suitable secondary habitat for the rhinos.
“It’s become our duty to work harder to find a second habitat because the danger is real,” said the national park chief, Mamat Rahmat.
“We’re lucky that the tsunami did not affect the Javan rhinos this time. But the threat is there and we need to act accordingly.”
The Javan rhino is the most threatened of the world’s five rhino species and has been listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Widodo Ramono of the Rhino Conservation Foundation of Indonesia said: “If you’ve only got one habitat and there’s another tsunami, the rhinos could be wiped out completely.”
Conservationists have surveyed other areas of Java and adjacent Sumatra without success, he said.
The area available, climatic conditions, food availability, water sources and safety from poachers were among the key criteria assessed, Rahmat said.
More than 200 species of plants, a year-round wet climate, fertile soil and lots of water will be required.
Ujung Kulon offers 5,100 hectares of rainforest with numerous streams.
Several years ago, three calves were seen in Ujung Kulon.
The rhinos used to roam over much of Southeast Asia and northeast India but poaching and human encroachment on its habitat have led to a dramatic population decline.
The fact that the rhinos used to live in the whole of Southeast Asia suggests the requirements might not be too specific.
In 2010, the last Javan rhino in Vietnam was killed, according to WWF.
The horn is used in traditional medicine fetching ever-higher prices on the black market although there is no evidence that it has any medicinal value.
A young, dead Javan rhino in Ujung Kulon with hunter Charles te Mechelen in 1895. Picture credit: Wikimedia