Wildlife experts report that the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), which is long considered to be one of the rarest species of rhinoceroses in the world, has now become virtually extinct in the region.

Animal conservationists believe that the survival of the species now depends on the small number of rhinos remaining in the wilderness of Indonesia and those being cared for in captivity.

Despite intensive efforts in conducting surveys of the animals, there have been no sightings of Sumatran rhinos in the Malaysian wilderness since 2007, with the exception of two female rhinoceroses that were captured for the purpose of breeding in 2011 and 2014.

This has led scientists and experts in the field to consider the animals extinct in the wilderness of Malaysia. They now urge officials in Indonesia to pick up the pace regarding conservation efforts in the Southeast Asian country.

In a study featured in the Oryx, the International Journal of Conservation, researchers at the University of Copenhagen, the International Rhino Foundation, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) carried out a survey of remaining Sumatran rhinos in the wild.

Lead researcher Rasmus Gren Havmøller of Copenhagen's Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate said that it is important for the species' survival that all existing Sumatran rhinoceroses are considered a metapopulation. This means that all rhinos are managed through a single program that is administered across international and national borders to maximize the animals' birth rate overall.

Havmøller said that this single program includes individual rhinos currently being cared for in captivity.

The researchers suggest that the establishment of intensive management zones can provide a potential solution to the dwindling numbers of Sumatran rhinos. These zones will serve as sanctuaries with increased protection against animal poaching. Individual rhinoceroses can be relocated to these zones in order to allow the animals to find suitable partners for mating.

While the Sumatran rhino used to roam across most countries in Southeast Asia, the animal has now become limited to the wilderness of Indonesia. Around 100 individual rhinos can still be found living in three separate animal populations in the region, one of which has experienced a 70 percent decline in its distribution range over the past 10 years.

Experts believe this current trend echoes the population decline of Sumatran rhinos from 500 individual animals to extinction. This was observed from 1980 to 2005 in Sumatra's Kerinci Sebelat National Park, a 1,379,100 hectare protected area.

Aside from populations of the Sumatran rhinos in the wild, nine individual rhinoceroses are being held in captivity. One of these rhinos is kept in the Cincinnati Zoo; three rhinos are kept in different facilities in Malaysia for reproduction purposes; and five rhinos are kept in Indonesia's Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.

Photo: Willem v Strien | Flickr 

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