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The Precarious Fate of the Sumatran Rhino


The Sumatran rhino, the world’s smallest rhinoceros. Photo: rhinos.org

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS     

With less than 80 Sumatran rhinoceroses left in the wild, and only a few in captivity, the Sumatran rhino, the smallest of the five species of this endangered family of odd-toed ungulates, was officially declared extinct in Malaysia in 2015.

The two-horned Asian rhino currently competes with the Javan rhino (of which there are about 100 left in the wild) for the unenviable title of most threatened rhino species.

Untempered poaching and massive habitat loss have already led to the disappearance of the Sumatran rhino in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, and it is only a matter of time unless the little, long-haired creature vanishes from the world completely.

Notwithstanding, late last month, a global conservation effort to preserve the critically endangered Sumatran rhino was begun under the auspices of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), in cooperation with the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission, Global Wildlife Conservation, the International Rhino Foundation, the National Geographic Society and the Indonesian government.

The multinational scheme is aimed at helping the Indonesian conservation breeding program, known as the Sumatran Rhino Rescue project, by facilitating mating by selectively relocating male and female rhinos to protected facilities where they can interact. (Because of the Sumatran rhino’s now-fragmented natural breeding grounds, the animals have had trouble finding mates, a problem that is complicated by the fact that if a female goes too long without breeding, she will become infertile.)

Working with the WWF and the other nonprofit conservation groups, the Indonesian government plans to build two new rhino breeding sanctuaries, in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo.

Currently, there is only one such reservation, built by the International Rhino Foundation in Way Kambas National Park in southern Sumatra in 1998. So far, only a handful of rhinos have been born at this site.

It is considered to be the only reproductively viable center in the world for captive Sumatran rhinos.

But unless the Way Kambas sanctuary and its two new companion rhino reserves are successful in breeding live rhino calves, the Sumatran rhino is expected to disappear entirely within in 15 years.

 

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