Rhinoceros sondaicus. Asia. Mounted specimen, 1801.
This Javan rhinoceros is not only the oldest mounted animal at the NHM, it is also one of the oldest and best preserved historic mounted specimens in the world.
THE LAST UNICORN
The animal that Marco Polo discovered in the late 13th century in what is now Myanmar and took to be the legendary unicorn was probably a Javan rhinoceros. At that time, the species existed in much of Southeast Asia in the thick, evergreen rainforests.
Javan rhinoceroses can stand as tall as 1.7 meters at the shoulder. Males have a single horn consisting of a hair-like substance and growing to a maximum of 25 centimeters; in the female, the horn is no more than a small knob or is completely lacking. There is still enormous demand for the horns, which in traditional Chinese medicine are believed to have a wide variety of healing properties. On the black market they are worth more than gold.
Not least because of poaching, the Javan rhinoceros has become one of rarest animal species in the world. Its population is estimated to be 50, or at most 60, and is limited to two national parks in the western-most tip of Java and in the south of Vietnam. Because no animals are currently kept in captivity, there is no possibility of saving the species if the tiny population in the wild dies out. However, since 2010 there have been grounds for hope that strict protection measures could finally be bearing fruit: a hidden-camera video showed images of two Javan rhinoceros females with their calves.
The fourteen-month-old male on display was captured at the end of the 18th century. It was intended for Schönbrunn Zoo, but perished in Hamburg on the long journey to Vienna. It was mounted in 1801 and has not been remounted since then.