An agreement to launch a captive breeding program was brokered in 1984. By 1985, key participants began pulling out, including the Malaysian state of Sabah.Despite the setbacks, efforts to capture rhinos quickly got up and running. Keeping the animals healthy proved to be a much greater challenge.By 1995, nearly half of the 40 rhinos caught were dead, and none of them had successfully bred in captivity. This is the second article in our four-part series “The Rhino Debacle.” Read Part One here. No one knows when humans first encountered the Sumatran rhinoceros, the smallest, hairiest, most loquacious and arguably strangest of all living rhinos. But that initial face-to-face probably occurred some 60,000 or 70,000 years ago as humans first pushed their way across the Asian continent and reached what are today the forests of northeast India. It probably didn’t go well for the rhino. Those early migrants must have been adept hunters to survive, and their first real interaction probably ended with rhino meat roasting over a fire. Early human hunting of Sumatran rhinos isn’t speculation. Scientists have found their bones in the Niah and Madai caves in Borneo, leftovers from a Pleistocene hunt. A recent study also found that Sumatran rhino populations plummeted during the Pleistocene. While the researchers believe the decline was due to climate change and subsequent habitat loss, they also note hunting may have played a part. It’s hard to imagine it didn’t, given the role of human hunting in wiping out other megafauna worldwide. Whatever was responsible, by the end of the Pleistocene, only 500 to 1,300 Sumatran rhinos were left. Nine thousand years later, a small group of humans were doing something very different from their forebears. They were trying to catch Sumatran rhinos — not to roast them over fires or chop off their horns for sham medicine, but to breed them in captivity. They hoped to ensure the survival of this ancient mammal that had split off from all other living rhinos a shocking 20 million plus years ago. “The Sumatran rhino is in all essence, in all sense a living fossil. It’s been around relatively unchanged since the Oligocene period,” says Ed Maruska, director of Cincinnati Zoo from 1984 to 1994, when it ran a rhino captive-breeding program. This means losing the Sumatran rhino cannot be compared to the potential extinction of any other rhino species, as it represents a distinct genus, evolutionarily cut off from all other living mammals by around 25 million years.