The Sumatran rhino captive-breeding program caught 40 rhinos from 1984 to 1995. To date, the program has produced five calves.Some view these figures as evidence of a colossal failure. Others point to the births achieved as proof of the program’s eventual success.Momentum has been growing to relaunch efforts to capture wild rhinos. The most significant step yet was the September announcement of a new initiative dubbed the Sumatran Rhino Rescue. This is the final article in our four-part series “The Rhino Debacle.” Read Part One, Part Two and Part Three. There is a clip from the documentary Torgamba: the Last Rhino that I watch over and over. It shows Torgamba, the male Sumatran rhino who spent much of his life in the U.K. before being sent back to Indonesia, returning to his native country. Tom Foose and Nico van Strien are waiting for him. Neither of them are comfortable-looking TV presenters, but these are scientists, not celebrities. Foose is as John Payne describes him: “nerdy,” with his slight build, thick glasses, short shorts and long socks. Van Strien is big-built and stiff. Both men try to look comfortable as Torgamba browses before them. Foose calls the moment “gratifying.” “I don’t think he’s much bigger now than he was,” van Strien says. “No, but he was definitely a young animal — his horn was quite short and now it really is quite spectacular.” In the film, you can see just how small Torgamba is when standing next to Foose and Van Strien. The littlest, strangest rhino. In 2006, six years after the film was made, Tom Foose died. He was only 61. He’d lived long enough, however, to see the birth of two baby rhinos, long enough to see his life’s work bearing fruit. Tom Foose in 2001, posing in front of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Sumatran rhino enclosure with Emi and young Andalas in the background. Photo courtesy of the International Rhino Foundation. Re-evaluating the failure First, some numbers: the Sumatran rhino captive-breeding program caught 40 rhinos from 1984 to 1995. To date, the program has produced five calves. By any normal count this would look like a pretty spectacular failure. “There weren’t as many rhinos as everybody anticipated. The rhinos weren’t as fertile as everybody anticipated. There were all those challenges,” says Terri Roth, head of Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). But given how close the program was to accomplishing nothing but death and tragedy — given that the last calf was just born two years ago; that the remaining population in the wild may be anywhere from 30 to 80 — the captive-breeding program starts to look like a prescient gift from its founders. And maybe even the best chance to save this unique genus. “For a combination of reasons, the collaboratively-managed global population imagined by the 1987 IUCN group was never achieved,” John Payne and K. Yoganand wrote in a 2017 report on the future of Sumatran rhino conservation commissioned by the WWF. “The most significant reasons included insufficient knowledge of key elements of rhino breeding biology, poor husbandry, unwillingness to share rhinos, more than half the rhinos unable to breed due to age-related problems or reproductive pathology and no work done to apply advanced technology.” Though all this is true (in fairness, Roth and her team did try and artificially inseminate a female rhino), it’s a glass-half-empty view.