Four-day-old Sumatran rhinoceros, Ratu, with mother Andatu, 30 June 2012. Photo: S. Ellis / International Rhino Foundation

By Ashley P. Taylor
31 August 2015

(LiveScience) – The Sumatran rhino is now considered extinct in the wild in the Southeast Asian country of Malaysia, according to a new study.

No wild Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) have been found on the Malaysian peninsula since 2007, and what are thought to be the last two female rhinos in Malaysian Borneo were caught and placed in captive breeding programs in 2011 and 2014.

Now, fewer than 100 of the species remain in the wild, researchers estimate, distributed among three wild populations on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. [See Photos of All 5 Rhino Species]

In order to save the Sumatran rhino from extinction, it will be necessary to designate the regions where rhinos breed as protected areas, called intensive management zones (IMZs), and to consolidate other, isolated rhinos into these zones to maximize their chances of reproducing, the researchers said. While Asian governments approved the IMZ strategy (along with several others) in 2013, they have yet to be implemented, the scientists wrote in the study.

"We've reached a point of no return," said study lead author Rasmus Havmøller, a graduate student at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the Natural History Museum of Denmark (affiliated with the University of Copenhagen)."[Sumatran rhino] densities are so low. What we need to do is go out, find out where the rhinos are, firstly, bring them together, secondly, … and then ensure their protection within these areas."

Sumatran rhinos once ranged across most of Southeast Asia, but now Indonesia is the only nation where they breed in the wild.

The rhino's major decline, from both poaching and logging, took place in the 1980s, Havmøller said. Now, the problem is that so few rhinos live in the wild that males and females rarely meet in their native habitats.

"Thus they just spiral into extinction by themselves," Havmøller told Live Science. "After being heavily poached and getting into low numbers, it's been the lack of breeding that's the primary cause for their extinction." [more]

Sumatran Rhino Goes Extinct in the Wild in Malaysia

20 August 2015 (University of Copenhagen) – Leading scientists and experts in the field of rhino conservation state in a new paper that it is safe to consider the Sumatran rhinoceros extinct in the wild in Malaysia. The survival of the Sumatran rhino now depends on the 100 or fewer remaining individuals in the wild in Indonesia and the nine rhinos in captivity.

Despite intensive survey efforts, there have been no signs of wild Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Malaysia since 2007, apart from two females that were captured for breeding purposes in 2011 and 2014. Scientists now consider the species extinct in the wild in Malaysia. The experts urge conservation efforts in Indonesia to pick up the pace.

The conclusions are published online in Oryx, the International Journal of Conservation, led by the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. Co-authors include WWF, the International Rhino Foundation and IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is in charge of the global Red List of Threatened Species.

The Sumatran rhino had its range across most of South-east Asia (lined areas). Today it only lives in the wild in Indonesia (black areas). Graphic: Havmøller, et al., 2015 / OryxSurviving rhinos are too far apart

“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”, says lead author and PhD student Rasmus Gren Havmøller from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate. 

The experts point to the creation of intensive management zones as a solution; 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.

Apart from the wild populations, nine Sumatran rhinos are in captivity, with one in Cincinnati Zoo in U.S.A (soon to be moved to Indonesia), three held at facilities in Sabah, Malaysia for attempts to produce embryos by in vitro fertilization, and five in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Two year old conservation strategy awaits political will

The intensive management zones as well as the single population strategy are two of four key actions identified back in April 2013 at the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit in Singapore and agreed upon that same year by the Indonesian government in the Bandar Lampung Declaration.

“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” says Christy Williams, co-author and coordinator of the WWF Asian and Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy. 

Widodo Ramono, co-author and Director of the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia (YABI) elaborates:

“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”.

The global conservation strategy also included the continued development of Rhino Protection Units at sites with remaining breeding populations. While this has been achieved, the authors highlight a need for strengthening the units against poaching efforts, especially in northern Sumatra. With a high demand for rhinoceros horns in black markets in Asia, poaching continues to be a significant threat to the species.

Finally, captive breeding was included in 2013 as one of the key conservation actions, but the necessary reproductive technology may still take years to develop, during which time we may lose the Sumatran rhino in the wild, says the authors.

Media Contacts

Ph.D student Rasmus Gren Havmøller
Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate
The Natural History Museum of Denmark
University of Copenhagen
Mobile: +45 2241 0431

Communications Officer Elisabeth Wulffeld
Mobile: +45 21179140

The Sumatran rhino is extinct in the wild in Malaysia

ABSTRACT: The Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis formerly ranged across South-east Asia. Hunting and habitat loss have made it one of the rarest large mammals and the species faces extinction despite decades of conservation efforts. The number of individuals remaining is unknown as a consequence of inadequate methods and lack of funds for the intensive field work required to estimate the population size of this rare and solitary species. However, all information indicates that numbers are low and declining. A few individuals persist in Borneo, and three tiny populations remain on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and show evidence of breeding. Rhino Protection Units are deployed at all known breeding sites but poaching and a presumed low breeding rate remain major threats. Protected areas have been created for the rhinoceros and other in situ conservation efforts have increased but the species has continued to go locally extinct across its range. Conventional captive breeding has also proven difficult; from a total of 45 Sumatran rhinoceros taken from the wild since 1984 there were no captive births until 2001. Since then only two pairs have been actively bred in captivity, resulting in four births, three by the same pair at the Cincinnati Zoo and one at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Sumatra, with the sex ratio skewed towards males. To avoid extinction it will be necessary to implement intensive management zones, manage the metapopulation as a single unit, and develop advanced reproductive techniques as a matter of urgency. Intensive census efforts are ongoing in Bukit Barisan Selatan but elsewhere similar efforts remain at the planning stage.

Will current conservation responses save the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis?



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