The Asian Rhino Range States Meeting, hosted by Indonesia, concluded with consensus among the government representatives from Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal that maintaining populations and preventing extinction is not enough; the species needs to recover. Endorsing the plan to raise the numbers of the greater one-horned Java and Sumatran rhinos, WWF also emphasised to the meeting participants that while consensus is valuable, the species needs action more than words. We have outstanding success stories across Asia. Nepal and India have both successfully expanded their rhino populations," explained Dr. Christy Williams, WWF Asian Rhino and Elephant Programme, "Their methods have been shared with the region. Now is the time for action, to implement these methods where they are needed most."
The international community has paid significant attention to the plight of the black rhinoceros and white rhinoceros across Africa, but relatively little focus has been given to the Asian species. However; there are far fewer rhinos remaining in Asia: as of March 2013 there were only 3,500 rhinos in Asia. Some species remain by a thread, in single populations numbering less than 50 animals.
However, there are proven examples of rhino populations bouncing back from similar numbers. Committed action by governments has resulted in the rhino population more than doubling in numbers in the Indian State of West Bengal over the last 13 years. Strong actions against poaching of rhinos in Nepal and India have seen rhino numbers recover. "These success stories are highly heartening for bringing Indonesia's rhinos back from the brink," noted Anwar Purwoto, Forest Programme Director of WWF-Indonesia.
"In India, we faced a situation where rhinos were hunted and poached almost to the brink of extinction", said Dr. Dipankar Ghose, Director, Species and Landscapes, WWF-India. "With increased protection, monitoring and conservation efforts by the government and civil society, India greatly strengthened the number of rhinos over the course of four decades. However, the recent rise in cases of rhino poaching with sophisticated weapons indicate the involvement of organized crime syndicates and is a cause of serious concern."
Implementing these conservation techniques, and maintaining the momentum where they are in play, is now more critical than ever as the three Asian rhino species: the greater one-horned rhinoceros, the Javan rhinoceros, and the Sumatran rhinoceros remain on the IUCN Red List of threatened species; the greater one-horned as Vulnerable and the Sumatran and Javan rhinos as Critically Endangered.
Building on the meeting's call to fight poaching, WWF emphasized the need for key rhino horn consuming countries to commit to key measures in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Anwar Purwoto added, "Indonesia has taken an important step by hosting this conference; and now we have in our hands proven, effective conservation measures. What comes next, and what we are confident on seeing from the Indonesia government, is political will to achieve the national rhino population targets."
Indonesia kicked off the conference on a high note, announcing that three months of research --- conducted with WWF-Indonesia as a partner --- has paid off with the first known visual evidence of the Sumatran rhinoceros in the forests of East Kalimantan.
Over the last few days the governments of Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal met to discuss the future of Asia's rhinos, with some positive commitments including an action plan to increase the populations of Asian Rhino species by at least 3% annually by 2020. You can view the declaration here.
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