Endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros [Update]: Saving Last Few In Indonesia Is Possible

Sep 18, 2015 11:34 AM EDT

Wild Sumatran rhinoceros were recently deemed extinct in Malaysia. but conservationists are doing all they can to protect the last few populations that remain in Indonesia. After preforming an island-wide survey, researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Indonesia Program are making recommendations about how to protect the species from extinction.

"Sumatran rhinos can still be saved in the wild, but we must secure these protection zones, which would require significant investments in additional law enforcement personnel," Wulan Pusparini, lead author and a UMass Amherst environmental conservation doctoral student who also works for the WCS, said in a news release.

The researchers suggest that the few scattered populations of wild rhinoceros should be consolidated and better managed. In their study, they also identified forest protection zones that could benefit the animals and they recommend breeding to create viable populations.

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"Assessing population and spatial distribution of this very rare species is challenging because of their elusiveness and very low population number," Pusparini and her colleagues said. According to the release, the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros are limited to three areas on the island of Sumatra and one in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Researchers have estimated that, roughly only 87 to 179 wild Sumatran rhinoceros are alive today.

Using habitat models the researchers developed, they concluded that rhinos only occupy 13 percent of the areas they surveyed. Poaching is one of the largest threats since rhino horns are widely used for traditional Chinese medicines. Of the areas the researchers surveyed, they found five that could greatly benefit the animals. However, in order for them to be successful, poaching risks must be taken out of the equation. Researchers suggest law enforcement officials increase regulation of these areas.  

"We welcome these important new results in supporting Indonesia's ongoing endeavors to fully implement its Sumatran Rhinoceros Action Plan," Bambang Dahono Adji, the director of biodiversity conservation at the Indonesian Ministry of Environmental and Forestry and chair of the country's Joint Rhino Conservation Secretariat, said in a statement

Researchers also noted that road construction planned for the area should be reconsidered.

"For the first time we have a clear idea of where the priority rhino's sites are, we have the tools and techniques to protect them, and now must ensure a concerted effort by all agencies to bring the Sumatran rhino back from the brink of extinction," Joe Walston, WCS's vice president for global programs, said in a statement.

The research findings were recently published in PLOS ONE

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