The Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is classified as a critically endangered species according to the current Red List of Threatened Species issued by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). These animals were previously naturally present in several parts of Asia such as Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. However, their numbers quickly dwindled as they were indiscriminately hunted and poached for their supposedly medically important horns. As time went by, their population incessantly continued to decrease – By 1986, the IUCN considered them as a species under threat.
Currently, there are significant populations of Sumatran Rhinoceros in both Indonesia and Malaysia. With no more than 100 rhinoceroses left, wildlife researchers from Malaysia and Indonesia are urging the government to initiate a rhinoceros breeding programme. A paper published in the scientific journal Oryx, with Dr. Benoit Goossens as the leading author, has given substantial evidence that the populations of Sumatran Rhinoceros in Sumatra and Borneo should be considered as a single conservation unit. “Genetic differences are minimal and we strongly believe that the observed differences do not justify keeping the Sumatran and Bornean populations as separate management units,” he said. Dr. Gossens further added that the population must be expanded in order to ensure the survivability of the species.
Action has already been taken to increase the number of Sumatran Rhinoceros. Sabah Wildlife Department director Dr. Laurentius Ambu stated that there are currently plans to collaborate with foreign researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. In addition, genome resource banking and artificial insemination in Sabah are currently underway. The Sabah Wildlife Department is also considering sending Tam, one of their male Sumatran Rhinoceroses, to Cincinnati Zoo in the United States to breed with mature females. Besides that, gamete exchanges are being considered between Malaysia and Indonesia. This involves collecting gametes from either male or female rhinoceroses and exchanging the samples with another country. The recipient country will then use the gametes obtained from the donor country to conceive new rhinoceroses. This is done by fusing the gametes from the donor country with appropriate gametes of the rhinoceroses of the recipient country. Gamete exchange helps to reduce inbreeding depression and increase the genetic diversity of the Sumatran rhinoceroses.
Despite the initiative by the authorities to protect and expand the population of Sumatran Rhinoceros, the population continues to decline due to illegal poaching and reproductive isolation. It imperative that these endangered animals are protected and the public educated regarding their current endangered state. Should the Sumatran Rhino population continue to decline, the species will sooner than later share the fate of the Dodo bird, thus threatening the Earth’s biodiversity.
1. The Star: “Experts: Malaysia and Indonesia should team up to breed rhinos”
2. Wildlife experts want Malaysia, Indonesia to help Sumatran rhinos meet and mate
3. van Strien, N.J., Manullang, B., Sectionov, Isnan, W., Khan, M.K.M, Sumardja, E., Ellis, S., Han, K.H., Boeadi, Payne, J. & Bradley Martin, E. 2008. Dicerorhinus sumatrensis. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>
4. Case study – Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)