There are five species of rhinoceros worldwide; greater one-horned, white, black, Sumatran and Javan. Rhinoceros are found throughout Africa and Asia, although populations are declining across both continents. The largest populations of African rhinoceros can be found in South Africa and Asian rhinoceros in India.

The Javan rhinoceros formerly occupied habitats from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Viet Nam, and probably southern China through peninsular Malaya to Sumatra and Java. Now however it is believed that the Javan rhino can only be found on the island of Java in Indonesia. The IUCN list this species as critically endangered with a population of approximately 40 – 60 individuals on Java.

The Javan rhinoceros was confirmed extinct from Viet Nam in October 2011 during surveillance work being conducted. Evidence collected confirms that the last rhinoceros was shot by suspected poachers in the Cat Loc area of Cat Tien national park in Viet Nam’s south.


Poaching of rhinoceros is the major threat to populations as is evidenced throughout Africa and particularly in Asia with the depletion of almost the entire species of Javan rhinoceros. Rhinoceros are hunted predominantly for their horns. The horns are either for ornamental purposes or for use in traditional medicine.

 Poaching pressure escalated during the 1970s and 1980s as a result of the rising demand for rhino horn in Asia and the Middle East.  In South Africa alone, 22 rhinos were illegally killed in 2003 but ten years later in 2013, up to 1,004 rhinos were slaughtered for horns, on average 2.75 rhinos are shot dead per day.

In traditional medicine many people believe that rhino horn can help cure illnesses as simple as a hangover and as serious as cancer. The science community and conservation agencies have conducted analysis of rhino horn to prove that the horn is made of keratin (the same protein found in human hair and nails) and as such has no medicinal benefits. However, these attempts have been unrecognised by many consumers who also use the product as a display of affluence.

Viet Nam is considered a major consumer and trading hub for rhino horn and transnational organised crime networks exist across the world. Rhino horn is predominantly imported from Africa and whilst use is widespread within Viet Nam, it is also a transit hub for a huge illegal trade across the border into China.

What are we doing?

WCS Viet Nam work at a high level with the Vietnamese authorities to build capacity and shape policy which enables effective oversight of illegal wildlife trade activities.

We build intelligence on crime syndicates, locations of illegal wildlife sale/production, smuggling routes which can help local law enforcement agencies with their investigations and arrests.

WCS recognises the importance of tackling the illegal wildlife trade networks throughout the chain. This involves supporting and organising transnational operations between key network countries. Throughout 2016 and 2017 WCS worked closely alongside the Vietnamese Government to send high level delegations of Vietnamese Government representatives to Mozambique and South Africa to agree multilateral plans to combat illegal wildlife trade.

WCS has conducted investigations on hubs for the sale of rhino horn and produced evidence of large operations in villages close to Ha Noi. This information has shown that these hubs are predominantly visited by tourists from China and wholesalers throughout Viet Nam, China and Thailand. This reporting is very useful information and can be used to aid ongoing long term Vietnamese police investigations.

WCS has also conducted capacity building training with international organisations such as the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES). This technical support allows both agencies to pursue the importance of monitoring international wildlife trade issues.


Brook, S., Van Coeverden de Groot, P., Mahood, S., and Long B. (2011). Extinction of the Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) from Vietnam. World Wildlife Fund Report. 

van Strien, N.J., Manullang, B., Sectionov, Isnan, W., Khan, M.K.M, Sumardja, E., Ellis, S., Han, K.H., Boeadi, Payne, J. & Bradley Martin, E. 2008. Dicerorhinus sumatrensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T6553A12787457. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 07 July 2017.

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