Photographer Robin Moore had never been to the Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia when he visited about a year ago. He was there for one reason and one reason only: to find a Javan rhino.
These rhinos are critically endangered, with only up to 68 left in the world. The animals once roamed a large swath of Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh and Laos. But poaching and habitat loss reduced their numbers to fewer than 30 by 1967, according to Save the Rhino. Now, all the remaining members of the species live in this park—and they’re rarely seen.
Moore wasn’t sure he’d see one on his trip with Global Wildlife Conservation and World Wildlife Fund, but he was hopeful. The team of about 10, including local supporters, spent the first three days following the rhinos’ footprints along slow-flowing rivers that run through the park. By the fourth day, a loud crash alerted the team that its prized moment had come.
“[That noise] could only have been a rhino,” Moore told Earther. “Nothing else could make that much noise in the forest. It really is a heart stopping moment. You’re starting to realize that the animal you’ve been fantasizing about being a mythical creature is right there.”
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This rare rhino entered the mud wallow the team purposefully set camp near. At first, Moore was frozen. But he quickly gathered himself to capture photos of the animal and the rare behavior the team was witnessing. Javan rhinos don’t bathe in mud for fun but to cool down, Moore explained. Mud baths also helps the rhino control parasites and biting insects.
The moment, which another member of the team filmed, lasted all of 12 minutes. But between that and another another Javan rhino the crew spotted for a mere 20 seconds, the trip was a success. Some people have spent decades studying the Javan rhino without ever seeing one, Moore noted.
That’s a stark contrast to other endangered rhinos—like the white rhino and black rhino in Africa—which live on grasslands and savannas. Plenty of beautiful images of these species already exist despite their dwindling numbers. The same can’t be said for Javan rhinos.
Saving the species from extinction will take more than photos, but these images bring the world one step closer to understanding and empathizing with an animal that’s rarely ever captured on film. That was the whole point, Moore said.
“[Capturing this moment] provides a glimpse of the life of an animal that we don’t ever get to see,” he told Earther. “Photos and video just connect us on a more emotional level, and what I hope is that I can at least translate a fraction of what I felt to be face to face with this animal by capturing it.”