Less than 100 Sumatran rhinos survive in the world today, according to a bleak new population estimate by experts. The last survey in 2008 estimated that around 250 Sumatran rhinos survived, but that estimate now appears optimistic and has been slashed by 60 percent. However conservationists are responding with a major new agreement between the Indonesian and Malaysian governments at a recent summit by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC).
The Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is found in small, fragmented populations on the islands of Sumatra (Indonesia) and Borneo (Malaysia), as well as a recently identified individual or group in Indonesian Borneo. The world’s smallest and hairiest rhino, the Sumatran is believed to be possibly related to the extinct woolly rhinoceros, having been around for around for 20 million years.
“Serious steps must be taken to roll back the tide of extinction of the Sumatran rhino,” Widodo Ramono, Executive Director of Yayasan Badak Indonesia (YABI), said in a statement. “This could be our last opportunity to save this species and, by working together as a collaborative unit, internationally and regionally, with an agreed vision and goals, a glimmer of hope has been clearly demonstrated.”
Sumatran rhino in Sabah, a neighboring state in Malaysian Borneo. Photo by Jeremy Hance.
Over 130 government officials, scientists, and NGO representatives met for a week long summit earlier this month at the Singapore Zoo on ways to proceed with conserving the Sumatran rhino. The summit was notable for gathering experts from both Indonesia and Malaysia to compare notes on the Critically Endangered species and for the production of a two year emergency action plan. According to a press release, the summit also looked at past success stories of bringing nearly extinct animals back from the brink, including the white rhinoceros, California condor, and black-footed ferret.
Mark Stanley Price, Chairman of the IUCN SSC Species Conservation Planning Sub-Committee called the summit “transformational” for pledges between the governments to work together to save the animal.
As well, he noted that “huge progress has been made in specifying the resources needed to improve rhino surveys, security and monitoring. We have also explored the potential of new technologies and the role of integrating the management of wild and captive individuals.”
Not all Sumatran rhino news has been bleak lately: last year the first Sumatran rhino calf was born at a semi-wild sanctuary in Indonesia. It was only the fourth time in a century that captive Sumatran rhinos have given birth. A similar sanctuary, with large pens in natural forest, has also been establish in the state of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. These two sanctuaries are increasingly being seen as “insurance policies” against total extinction. Currently the two sanctuaries house eight rhinos between them.
Possible plans include moving individual rhinos between Sumatra and Borneo, sharing reproductive cells, and using the most advanced reproductive technology available.
For decades, Sumatran rhinos were decimated by widespread deforestation and poaching for their horns. Rhino horn is used in Chinese Traditional Medicine, despite the fact that research has shown the horns have no medicinal benefit whatsoever. Today, the species is further imperiled by hanging-on in tiny, disconnected populations in shrinking forest fragments. Some of the rhinos now protected in the sanctuaries lived alone in tiny forests unable to reach others of their kind.
“We need to act together urgently, hand in hand, replicating some of the inspirational successes of other conservation efforts and aim to stop any failures that might impede progress,” Ramono said.
(04/04/2013) WWF-Indonesia recently caught the attention of the global media with their announcement that the Sumatran rhinoceros still exists in Indonesian Borneo, some 40 years after being declared extinct there. This sounds like great news for biodiversity conservation. But is it really?
(04/02/2013) Conservationists working to save the Sumatran rhino—one of the world’s most imperiled mammals—heard good news this week as WWF-Indonesia has found evidence of at least one Sumatran rhino persisting in the Indonesian state of Kalimantan, located on the island of Borneo. Small populations of Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) survive on Sumatra and on Borneo (in the Malaysian state of Sabah), but this is the first time scientists have confirmed the presence of the notoriously shy animal in Kalimantan in over two decades.
(03/17/2013) With the number of Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) now under 200 and declining rapidly, a group of conservationists have organized an emergency summit to discuss courses of action to save the world’s smallest remaining rhino from extinction.
(01/11/2013) 668 rhinos were killed in South Africa during 2012 according to new figures released by the South African government. The total, which represents a 49 percent rise over the 448 killed in 2011, reveals the heavy toll the black market trade in rhino horn is taking on one of Africa’s best known and most endangered animals.
(10/15/2012) 23,680 = the estimated number of wild rhinoceroses in South Africa. 35,000,000 = the number of American dollars generated by rhino hunting in South Africa. 97% = the percentage increase in illegally-hunted rhinos in 2011 from the national average in 1990. 30,000 = the number of pounds of rhino horns confiscated from poachers since 2010. 65 = the number of horns that have been stolen in South Africa from public display. 430…the number of rhinos killed this year, and counting…
(09/18/2012) While founded with good intentions, wildlife trade bans may in some cases be worsening the plight of some endangered species, argues a commentary published in the journal Tropical Conservation Science.
(09/07/2012) Yuppies, not elderly rural consumer, are driving the trade that is decimating some of the world’s most iconic endangered species, including tigers, elephants, rhinos, pangolins, and bears, said experts meeting at a workshop in Vietnam.
(08/21/2012) Efforts to save the Sumatran rhino in Borneo have sped up ever since the capture of Puntung last Christmas. A female rhino, who lost one foot to a snare, Puntung represents the first viable mate for Tam, a male rhino who has been kept in a large rainforest enclosure since his rescue in an oil plantation in 2008. Now a new video hopes to garner some publicity for the new couple, who may represent the best chance for the continued survival of Sumatran rhinos on Borneo.
(08/12/2012) With the help of remote camera traps, wildlife rangers have confirmed that the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) still inhabits the Leuser ecosystem in northern Sumatra, making the forest the only place on the Earth where Sumatran tigers, orangutans, elephants, and rhinos survive in a single ecosystem, though all remain Critically Endangered.
(06/25/2012) On early Saturday morning, scientists were elated when first-time Sumatran rhino mother, Ratu, gave birth to a healthy male calf. The birth was filmed as well footage has been taken of the little tike—with massive eyes—nursing (see videos below). The new calf gives hope to a species on the very brink of extinction.
(06/24/2012) After two miscarriages and a pregnancy that lasted 15 months, Ratu, a female Sumatra rhino, has given birth to a healthy male calf, conservationists happily announced this weekend. The birth at a rhino sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra is the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and the best reproductive rhino science in the world. This is the first captive birth in Indonesia, and only the fourth captive birth for the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in the last hundred years. The successful birth brings new hope for one of the world’s rarest mammals: less than 200 Sumatra rhinos are thought to survive in the world.