Excpet for two females captured for breeding programs in 2011 and 2014, there have been no signs of the wild Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Malaysia since 2007. In a new paper, experts in rhino conservation state that it is safe to consider the Sumatran rhinoceros extinct in the wild in Malaysia.

Survival of the Sumatran rhino now rests on the 100 or fewer remaining individuals in the wild in Indonesia and the nine rhinos in captivity, so experts are urging conservation efforts in Indonesia to intensify.

Lead author and PhD student Rasmus Gren Havmøller from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, says:

“It is vital for the survival of the species that all remaining Sumatran rhinos are viewed as a metapopulation, meaning that all are managed in a single program across national and international borders in order to maximize overall birth rate. This includes the individuals currently held in captivity."

The experts suggest creation of intensive management zones as a solution. These would be areas with increased protection against poaching, where individual rhinos can be relocated to, in order to increase the number of potential and suitable mating partners.

Historically ranging across most of South-east Asia, the Sumatran rhino is now only found in the wild in Indonesia. Here, less than 100 individuals in total are estimated to live in three separate populations, one of which has seen a critical decline in distribution range of 70 % over the last decade.

This trend echoes how the Sumatran rhino population dropped from around 500 to extinction between 1980 and 2005 in Sumatra’s largest protected area, the enormous 1,379,100 hectare Kerinci Sebelat National Park.

Aside from the wild population, nine Sumatran rhinos are in captivity. One is in the Cincinnati Zoo in U.S.A, soon to be moved to Indonesia, three are held at facilities in Sabah, Malaysia for attempts to produce embryos by in vitro fertilization, and five are in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Sumatra, Indonesia.

With a high demand for rhinoceros horns in black markets in Asia, poaching continues to be a significant threat to the species.

Havmøller, R.G. et al., 2015. Will current conservation responses save the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis? Oryx 2015: doi:10.1017/S0030605315000472

Photo: “Sumatran rhinoceros four days old” by International Rhino Foundation - Ratu and Andatu Day

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