• Bukit Lawang Trust

The Sumatran Rhino

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

The Sumatran Rhino is the closest living relative of the woolly rhino that roamed the earth during the Ice Age. Unfortunately, nowadays it is one of the world’s rarest rhino species, along with the Javan rhino, and it is considered to be critically endangered.

The Sumatran rhino is one of the 5 remaining rhino species in the world and it is the smallest and hairiest of them all! It has lived on the planet for 20 million years and it has been roaming the earth longer than any other living mammal. Just like its African rhino cousins, the Sumatran rhino has two horns, one larger horn on the tip of its nose, and a much smaller one which looks more like a little stub. Even though it is the smallest rhino species, its weight can range between 500 and 1000 kg!

The Sumatran rhino once roamed free across vast parts of Asia, throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and even parts of China. These days Sumatran rhinos can only be found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and in Kalimantan, the Indonesian province of Borneo. With less than 80 individuals remaining in the world, the Sumatran rhino is now on the brink of extinction. Factors such as habitat loss and fragmentation, intense poaching for their horn and human encroachment created catastrophic declines in for both Javan and Sumatran rhino populations in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Sumatran rhino is known to be very shy and solitary, which makes it very difficult for people to determine and monitor exact numbers, as sightings are extremely rare.

The fact that there are so few individuals remaining might actually be one of the biggest problems to increasing their numbers as they could be struggling to meet and reproduce in the wild as the remaining populations are scattered across a fragmented landscape.

There are currently only five small, highly fragmented populations, four of which are located on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, and one of them in the Indonesian province of Kalimatan, in Borneo. These 5 populations are all heavily protected by anti-poaching units and forest guards as their safety is of upmost importance for the survival of the species.

It has been roaming the earth longer than any other living mammal.

The Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS), located in the Way Kambas National Park, near the provincial capital of Bandar Lampung, does substantial work to ensure the species can reproduce healthily in a semi-wild environment, with the aim of reintroducing these animals to the wild in the future in order to save the species from extinction. The SRS is currently home to seven rhino, four females and three males, and the Way Kambas National Park is thought to accommodate approximately 30 Sumatran rhinos, even though exact numbers are hard to define, as it is really difficult to spot them!

Three of the rhinos at the SRS are females rescued from southern Sumatran forests. The breeding male, Andalas, was born in captivity and was previously living in isolation at the Cincinnati zoo in the US. He was relocated to Indonesia as part of an international breeding program in 2007. Here he successfully bred with one of the females, Ratu, giving birth in 2012 to the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity in more than a century, a male called Andatu. In 2016 a second, female, calf was born; Indonesian president Joko Widodo (Jokowi) named this baby rhino `Delilah', meaning “gift from god”.

Sumatran Rhinos will only give birth to one calf at a time and calves will normally stay with their mothers for approximately 16 months, which means reproduction rate and increase in population will be very slow.

In November 2019, Iman, the last Sumatran rhino surviving in captivity in Malaysia sadly passed away after a long illness resulting from uterine cancerous tumours. She was the last surviving Sumatran rhino in Malaysia after the last male, Tam, recently died in May 2019. The species had already been declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015, highlighting the urgency to take action and protect these wonderful animals who once roamed the earth in big numbers. A new international partnership, the Sumatran Rhino Rescue Project, was launched in 2018 by the Government of Indonesia in collaboration with leading international conservation organisations and local experts. This international breeding effort to bring the Sumatran rhino back from the brink of extinction is bringing hope for the survival of this species. The main aim of the programme is to relocate the fragmented rhino populations in Indonesia to safe and managed breeding facilities on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. There are high hopes that the improved infrastructure will not only provide better care and safety for the rhinos at this critical stage, but also will provide a safe space for them to reproduce in the years to come. Thanks to this initiative, the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary has recently doubled in size, to allow space for more rhinos. There are plans to build two new centres in Kalimantan and Northern Sumatra during the next 20 years, with the aim to build their numbers to a more sustainable level and stop the rapid decline of the Sumatran rhino on the island.

Header Image - International Rhino Foundation

Small Image - Dedi Candra

Camilla Massara

Advertising Volunteer from England

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