Sumatran rhino loses pregnancy: conservationists saddened but remain resolute

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
March 31, 2010



Rhino conservationists' hopes were dampened today by news that Ratu, a female Sumatran rhino, had lost her pregnancy. Just months after the announcement of the pregnancy—the first at Indonesia’s Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park—Ratu lost the embryo. Still, say conservationists, the very fact that Ratu became pregnant at all should keep hope alive for the beleaguered species.

"This is not unusual for a rhino’s first pregnancy," explains Dr. Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF). "While we are saddened by this loss, the fact that we achieved a pregnancy confirms that our work with the Sumatran rhino breeding program is progressing. Ratu and Andalas [the father] are healthy and have produced one pregnancy, so we are optimistic that success will soon be achieved."


A Bornean rhino, a subspecies of the Sumatran rhino, in captivity in Borneo. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Sumatran rhinos are considered one of the world's most threatened mammals. Vast deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia—still ongoing—as well as targeting by poachers, has caused the Sumatran rhino to vanish entirely from much of their former range and hang-on by a thread in others. Today, it is estimated that only 200 Sumatran rhinos survive in the wild with 10 individuals in captivity.

In addition, Sumatran rhinos are notoriously difficult to breed successfully in captivity. Last year, Emi, the world's only Sumatran rhino to successfully give birth in over a century died at the Cincinnati Zoo in the US. Emi, herself, had five failed pregnancies before she gave birth to Andalas, who was transported to Indonesia to breed with Ratu and other females. Indonesia's Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary hopes it can use the expertise learned by Emi's eventual successes to be the next to produce Sumatran rhino offspring.

"Our staff is disappointed, but the fact that we did achieve a pregnancy reconfirms our commitment to helping Ratu and Andalas succeed," said Dr. Dedi Candra, the sanctuary’s animal collection coordinator. "We continue to learn more about the Sumatran rhino’s breeding and gestation habits, which will help us manage Ratu’s next pregnancy."

The last surviving member of the genus Dicerorhinus, Sumatran rhinos are distinguished by being the world’s smallest rhino and the only one to be nearly covered in a coat of reddish-brown hair. The species is also thought to be the most closely-related living relatives to the wooly rhinoceros, which roamed Europe and Russia until 10,000 years ago.

"Saving this species is a balancing act. We must care for the wild population and also try to breed as many animals as possible in captivity in order to save it," says Ellis, who notes that no Sumatran rhino has been poached in five years due at least in part to stepping up protection of these vanishing jungle behemoths.





Video of Emi's third and final infant soon after birth.







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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (March 31, 2010).

Sumatran rhino loses pregnancy: conservationists saddened but remain resolute.

http://news.mongabay.com/2010/0331-hance_ratu.html