The Sumatran rhino population has been gone from tens of thousands two centuries ago to 100 or less today.
Also known as the “hairy rhino” for its unique brown fur coat, the Sumatran rhino is the smallest and rarest species of rhino. Most recently, the species was declared extinct in Malaysia in late August.
The researchers who conducted the population study found that poaching, habitat loss and underfunded anti-poaching efforts were the main culprits of the animal’s extinction in the region. The scientists were from University of Copenhagen’s Center for Macroecology and partners of the study included WWF, the International Rhino Foundation and IUCN.
Only two Sumatran rhino females were sighted in Malaysia in 2011 and 2014, but both were taken to be bred in captivity in the hopes of raising the species’ numbers. But sadly, the captive breeding program has proven mostly ineffective as the 45 rhinos captured since 1984 have resulted in only four babies.
The population study’s lead author Rasmus Gren Havmøller 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.”
Indonesia and its surrounding areas are now the only wild home of the Sumatran rhino. In a different research study by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, three steps that could help save the animal from extinction were established.
The scientists began by identifying five critical areas of forest in in Borneo that must be protected and then formulated the three steps around these areas:
- Establishing strong environmental and anti-poaching protections in these forests;
- Stopping plans to build roads that would disturb these forests;
- Condensing the rhino population, currently scattered across about 11,583 square miles land, into smaller regions
If there is any hope for the species to survive, these three crucial steps must be implemented