Genetic diversity, phylogeny and conservation of the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus)

Abstract

With a total population of less than 60 individuals limited to two locations, the Javan rhinoceros is perhaps the most endangered large mammal on earth. Although species specific information is crucial to its conservation, its precarious status, habitat inaccessibility, and behavioral adaptations pose major obstacles to its study. Here we report on the first genetic analysis of the two extant populations, in Ujung Kulon, Indonesia, and Cat Tien, Vietnam, and discuss their conservation. As its critically endangered status precluded invasive sampling, we extracted DNA from dung, amplifying and sequencing segments of the mtDNA 12S rRNA gene and the non-coding D-loop. Divergence between Javan rhinos from Ujung Kulon and Cat Tien was similar to that between recognized subspecies of African rhinos, and exceeded that between Sumatran rhinos. The Ujung Kulon and Cat Tien populations represent separate Evolutionary Significant Units, advocating independent management. However, given the precariousness of the Cat Tien population, demographic considerations may override genetic issues in the short term. Genetic diversity of Javan rhinos was low and population expansion in the immediate future will be critical for its survival.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to express our thanks to Mark Atkinson and the ‚Wilds’ for the Indian rhino samples, San Diego Zoo and Eric Harley for the white rhino samples, David Cummings, Raoul DuToit, and the Wildlife Department of Zimbabwe, and Perez Olindo, David Western, and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management of Kenya for black rhino samples from Zimbabwe and Kenya, Juan Carlos Morales, Mahedi Andau, William Karesh, and ‚Taman Safari’ for samples of Sumatran rhinos. We would also like to thank the Department of Forestry in Indonesia (PHPA), Ridwan Setiawan, Adhi Rachmat Hariyadi and Adji Santoso, for assistance in collecting samples from Ujung Kulon, and the rangers of Cat Tien National Park, for collecting the samples from Cat Tien. All samples were imported according to CITES regulations with permits from the exporting and importing countries. This study was funded by grants from the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Correspondence to Prithiviraj Fernando.

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Fernando, P., Polet, G., Foead, N. et al. Genetic diversity, phylogeny and conservation of the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus). Conserv Genet 7, 439–448 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-006-9139-4

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Keywords

  • Javan rhinoceros
  • Rhinoceros sondaicus
  • conservation
  • genetics
  • mtDNA sequences