Conservation news

World Rhino Day arrives this year with a new cause for celebration

  • September 22 is World Rhino Day.
  • The Sumatran Rhino is listed as being critically endangered on the IUCN red list.
  • A Sumatran Rhino at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia is pregnant with her second baby.

Just in time for World Rhino Day comes an announcement out of South Sumatra, Indonesia. Way Kambas National Park will soon be celebrating the arrival of a new rhino calf that will be joining the other 5 rhino residents of the national park’s Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.

Ratu, whose name means, “queen,” is estimated to have been born in 1999 in Way Kambas National Park. She is the second youngest female Sumatran Rhino living in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.

The mother is expected to give birth to her new calf in May. Her first calf, Andatu, was born at the sanctuary in 2012. Both calves were fathered by Andalas, born at the Cincinnati Zoo and was moved from the Las Angeles Zoo to Indonesia in 2007.

Andatu, the first Sumatran rhino born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, takes tentative first steps on his first day of life in 2012. Andatu is Ratu’s first child. Ratu is currently pregnant with her second calf — due in May 2016 — and the new calf will resemble its older brother. Photo courtesy of the International Rhino Foundation.

This announcement gives special significance to World Rhino Day as this new pregnancy offers new hope for the endangered species.

“One birth doesn’t save a species, but it’s one more Sumatran rhino on Earth,” said Dr. Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation, in a press release. “The new calf affirms that there is expertise in Indonesia to breed Sumatran rhinos. This pregnancy comes at a critical time for the species, which now numbers no more than 100 individuals in the wild.”

Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, the Sumatran Rhino is now presumed extinct in the wild in Malaysia. Over the last 50-100 years, the Sumatran Rhino has become extinct in nine other countries. 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.

This ultrasound image shows Ratu’s embryo at 36 days old. Only four Sumatran rhinos have been born at breeding facilities, including the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary and the Cincinnati Zoo in the United States. This new calf offers new hope Sumatran rhinos — a critically endangered species. Photo taken on February, 28, 2015. Courtesy of Yayasan Badak Indonesia.

Initially, the catastrophic population decline in Sumatran Rhinos was primarily driven by poaching for use of horns in traditional medicine, along with continued habitat loss and the fragmentation of key forest habitats for the species due to infrastructure development. Today, the species’ populations are small and isolated, which lowers their breeding rate, adding to the ongoing threat from poaching.

The International Rhino Foundation in partnership with the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia is assisting in the management of 13 Rhino Protection Units in two of the three national parks in which the Sumatran rhino is found. Two other rhino species, the white rhino and the greater one-horned rhino, have been brought back from the brink of extinction to stable numbers today.

“With the recent extinction of the Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, the responsibility for saving this species rests squarely with Indonesia,” said Ellis. “In light of the threats from poaching and habitat destruction, the government of Indonesia needs to secure the future of the remaining populations and habitats of Sumatran rhinos. The International Rhino Foundation and other partners will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Indonesian government to build the necessary collaboration between government agencies and conservation groups, as well as to strengthen public support.”

Pictured here is Ratu’s fetus is at 117 days old. In this stage of development, the fetus is much larger than an embryo. In the lower right corner of the image, you can clearly see the calf’s head. This is a profile view, and the circular dark spot is the fetus’ eye. To the left of the eye, you can see its nose and mouth. The new calf will be the second rhino born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia’s Way Kambas National Park. Photo courtesy of Yayasan Badak Indonesia.