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Wild Sumatran Rhinos Considered to Be Extinct in Malaysia

Aug 20, 2015 11:07 AM EDT
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The Sumatran rhinoceros is not plentiful on the planet: In fact, the Dicerorhinus sumatrensis is down to maybe 100 in the wild and nine in captivity, and most of them live in Indonesia. Scientists have recently concluded that that rhino is extinct in Malaysia, and they published their conclusions in Oryx, the International Journal of Conservation. In the report, they are calling on Indonesia to increase its conservation efforts. 

"Serious effort by the government of Indonesia should be put to strengthen rhino protection by creating Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ), intensive survey of the current known habitats, habitat management, captive breeding, and mobilizing national resources and support from related local governments and other stakeholders," Widodo Ramono, co-author and Director of the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia (YABI), said in a statement.

Since 2007 there have been no signs of wild Sumatran rhinoceros, according to researchers' surveys. However, this does not include two females that were captured in 2011 and 2014 for breeding purposes. The species' rapid decline is believed to be related to hunting and habitat loss. Between 1980 and 2005, researchers observed the Sumatran rhinoceros population drop from 500 to extinct in Kerinci Sebelat National Park, Sumatra's largest protected area.

"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," said lead author and Ph.D. student Rasmus Gren Havmøller from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, at the University of Copenhagen.

According to their study, remaining rhinos in Indonesia are spread among three separate populations, one of which has experienced a significant decline in its range. If this trend is to continue, it would mimic the Sumatran rhinoceros' population decline in Malaysia.

Researchers suggest creating areas with increased protection against poaching, to which rhinos could be relocated to mate with suitable partners.

"The tiger in India was saved from extinction due to the direct intervention of Mrs. Gandhi, the then prime minister, who set up Project Tiger. A similar high level intervention by President Joko Widodo of Indonesia could help pull the Sumatran rhinos back from the brink," Christy Williams, co-author and coordinator of the WWF Asian and Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy said in the statement.

In addition to wild populations, nine Sumatran rhinos are in captivity. This includes one at the Cincinnati Zoo (soon to be moved to Indonesia); three in Sabah, Malaysia to be engaged in in vitro fertilization; and five in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Sumatra, Indonesia.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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