Saving the Sumatran rhino

As with many rhino species the Sumatran rhino has had a tough period in the last 40 years (in 1976 it was thought there were still 800 Sumatran Rhinos left in the wild).  They were once found across Sumatra, Borneo, and other parts of Indonesia, all the way up into mainland Asia in places such as Cambodia and parts of Bhutan and China. The decline had been extraordinary, leaving a current population estimate of 100 on the optimistic side (thought more likely to be 30). This Rhino species it is thought to be the most prehistoric, being surprisingly similar to the woolly mammoth of Europe’s past, the sole remaining example of a species from the genus dicerorhinini.  

There was a disagreement over the last two decades about the best way of trying to save the population. On the one hand the suggestion was that what should be done is all of the remaining Rhinos captured and put into a system to breed them effectively. On the other hand people were arguing that what should be done is all resources possible should be put into protecting the remaining rhinos in the wild and allowing them to breed naturally there. This debate didn’t really receive a significant decision and therefore people have tried to protect those in the wild but with few resources, and others have attempted to build a domestic population that could serve as safety net should be world population get wiped out. This has not been successful and so there are only around 8 captive Sumatran Rhinos, not only is this not enough,  many of them are closely related and therefore not capable of breeding. Further complications of captive breeding include Sumatran rhinos being induced ovulators, though no-one had worked out how this induction works. As with all large mammals, Sumatran rhinos are slow breeders taking between 4 and 7 years to mature and having long gestation periods- so even in a healthy population growth is slow.

Current  biggest threat continue to be habitat loss, though poaching doesn’t help. Given the small size of the populating, it wouldn’t take a big disaster to wipe them out. If the Sumatran rhino is to be saved, it must be done in the next few years, or it will be too late.

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