Sumatran rhinos likely to become extinct, conservationists warn

Conservation group IUCN wants Indonesia and international donors to take urgent action to save ‘weirdest of all rhinos’
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 22 sep 15;

Earth’s last remaining Sumatran rhinos are edging perilously close to extinction, according to one of the world’s top conservation bodies.

There are fewer than 100 of the animals left in the rainforests of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the Kalimantan province of Borneo. The last Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Malaysia was spotted two years ago in the Sabah region of Borneo but experts last month declared the species extinct in that country.

That has prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to sound the alarm over the species’ fate, which it said is headed for extinction if urgent action is not taken.

“It takes the rhino down to a single country,” said Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN’s species survival commission. “With the ongoing poaching crisis, escalating population decline and destruction of suitable habitat, extinction of the Sumatran rhino in the near future is becoming increasingly likely.”

The rhino is the smallest of the three Asian rhino species – there are also just 57 Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and more than 3,000 Indian rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis). The population of the Sumatran species is believed to have halved in the last decade.

The last official assessment in 2008 put their number at about 250 but Stuart said, with hindsight, the true number then had probably been about 200. Poachers kill the rhinos for their horn, which is even more valuable than that of African rhinos.

“For hundreds of years, we’ve been unable to stem the decline of this species. That’s due to poaching. It’s due to the fact they get to such a low density the animals don’t find each other and they don’t breed. It’s due to the fact that if the females don’t breed regularly, they develop these tumours in their reproductive tract that render them infertile,” he said.


A large number of females in the wild were likely infertile because they do not breed often enough, he said. The only Sumatran rhino in the western hemisphere, a male called Harapan, is due to be flown from Cincinnati Zoo in the US to a rhino sanctuary in Sumatra this autumn to help the species breed. There are only nine of the animals in captivity worldwide.

Stuart said a good plan had already been agreed on how to save the species but political commitment was now needed from Indonesia and international donors to fund it. The plan envisages a survey to identify all the remaining individuals, and then bringing them together to help them breed and protect them with military-like levels of security from poachers.

“It’s a fantastic animal. It’s the weirdest of all the rhinos. They meow like a cat,” Stuart said. “No one is going to get rich on Sumatran rhinos other than those illegally trading in the horn. There are frankly no economic benefits to saving it, it’s just a moral obligation.”

Sumatran rhino likely to go extinct unless action is taken urgently, warns IUCN
IUCN 22 Sep 15;

With fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos surviving in the wild, the species will likely become extinct unless the Indonesian Government urgently implements the Sumatran rhino recovery plan, warns IUCN on World Rhino Day. The remaining 100 Sumatran rhinos represent less than half of the population size estimated during the last IUCN Red List assessment of the species in 2008.

Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, the Sumatran rhino is now presumed extinct in the wild in Malaysia, as announced last month in the journal Oryx. Over the last 50-100 years, the Sumatran rhino has become extinct in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, India, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. According to the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Asian Rhino Specialist Group, the Sumatran rhino is now only found in a few sites in Sumatra, and only a handful of individuals are believed to survive in Kalimantan, Borneo.

“Malaysia was once regarded as one of the last strongholds for Sumatran rhinos, thus losing them from this country presents a major blow to the survival prospects of the species,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s SSC. “With the ongoing poaching crisis, escalating population decline and destruction of suitable habitat, extinction of the Sumatran rhino in the near future is becoming increasingly likely. The Indonesian Government urgently needs to develop intensive protection zones with significantly enhanced security enforcement in all sites where Sumatran rhinos still occur.”

The initial catastrophic population decline in Sumatran rhinos was primarily driven by poaching for use of horns in traditional medicine, coupled with continued habitat loss and infrastructure development, which has led to fragmentation of key forest habitats of the species. Today, the species’ populations are small and isolated, which lowers their breeding rate, adding to the ongoing threat from poaching. Unable to breed regularly, isolated females are at risk of developing tumours in their reproductive tracts leading to infertility and further exacerbating the decline.

Urgent measures for saving the Sumatran rhino were agreed in October 2013 at the Asian Rhino Range States Meeting in Indonesia, and have since been used to develop a new recovery plan for the species. The Indonesian Government now needs to allocate funding for the implementation of the plan, and to ensure that a system is in place to make urgent, rapid and bold decisions as the plan is implemented, according to IUCN.

Alongside developing intensive protection zones and consolidating isolated animals into larger populations, managed breeding is one of several key strategies needed to save the species. As part of the global effort to save the Sumatran rhino, a young male named Harapan, born at the Cincinnati Zoo, will join five other rhinos at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Sumatra’s Way Kambas National Park next month.

“It is hoped Harapan’s relocation will further accelerate conservation breeding of the species in captivity,” says Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, Chair of the IUCN SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group. “But the long-term future of the species will ultimately be decided by the actions of the Indonesian Government and civil society. We need effective collaboration between government agencies and conservation institutions, allocation of significant funds by the Indonesian Government and international donors, as well as strengthened support from the public.”

The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is the most threatened of all rhino species due to its rapid rate of decline. It is also the smallest and the hairiest species and the only Asian rhino species with two horns.