A Javan rhino, one of the world's rarest large mammals, has been found shot dead with its horn chopped off in a national park in southern Vietnam, a suspected victim of poachers, conservationists said Monday.
A team of rangers found the rhino's carcass April 29 inside Cat Tien National Park in Dong Nai province, said park official Bach Thanh Hai. It had already fully decayed, and authorities believe it could have died more than three months ago, he said.
Hai said the animal had been shot one time through the front leg and its horn - considered a valuable ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine - had been removed.
"It's very sad news for our rhino conservation," Hai said.
Authorities suspect that there are only three to five Javan rhinos left in Vietnam, Hai said. The animal was first caught on camera at the park in 1999.
The only other population is found in Java, Indonesia, where some 40 to 60 of the rhinos survive, according to the international conservation group WWF. There are none in captivity.
"It's a devastating blow to rhino conservation, a devastating blow to Vietnam's cultural heritage and their legacy," said Nicole Frisina, a spokeswoman for WWF's Greater Mekong region program. "It's a small population, and it's critically endangered. Of course, finding one dead is devastating to the species."
She said a population survey was recently completed using sniffer dogs from the U.S. to locate rhino dung. Samples were sent to labs in London and Canada for DNA and hormonal analysis to try to determine the number and gender of the remaining animals. Results are expected later this year.
A small amount of ground rhino horn can fetch hundreds of dollars on the black market. It is used to treat fevers, high blood pressure and other ailments.