Harapan,the last Sumatran rhino in US
The Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio, USA decided to send the last US-residing Sumatran rhino to Indonesia on a mating mission to preserve the critically endangered species. Photo from Paul R Harry Cincinnati Zoo

A zoo in the US on Tuesday has announced that it would send the last Sumatran rhino in the country on a mission to mate in Indonesia. The US-residing rhino will join his brother and three female Sumatran rhinos in a sanctuary in Malaysia, after conservationists call for the Indonesian government to do all it can to ensure the survival of the Sumatran rhinos.

Scientists recently claimed that Sumatran rhinos are extinct in Malaysia, with its current population of 100 or less in the wild. There are only nine Sumatran rhinos in captivity globally, including Harapan, who resides at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio. The eight-year-old Harapan is mature enough to mate, which will soon be flown to south-east Asia, the zoo officials said at a press conference.

The population of Sumatran Rhinos have dropped by nearly 90 percent since the mid-1980s. Experts said the development of the south-east Asia forest habitat and the poachers seeking the prized horns of the rhinos caused their extinction.

The Cincinnati zoo has been considered as the pioneer in breeding Sumatran rhinos. The zoo has already produced the first three born “hairy rhinos” in captivity in the modern times. Harapan was born after his older brother Andalas, and their sister, Suci, who died from illness in 2014 at the zoo. The eldest, Andalas, has already produced a male offspring in 2012 on the Indonesia island.

But Terri Roth, the long-time head of the zoo’s Centre for Research of Endangered Wildlife, told the Associated Press that the breeding programme for Sumatran rhinos in the Cincinnati will no longer be conducted. Closing the programme is a huge loss to them, Roth said, but added that “it’s the right thing, to at least have Harapan able to contribute to survival of the species.”

The officials of the environment ministry in South Africa reported an increase of more than 20 percent in rhino poaching. A total of 393 rhino poachings were reported through April, but advocates recently said they believe the losses are even higher.

The struggle against rhino poaching continues in South Africa as syndicates are still cashing in on rising demand for rhino horns in parts of Asia, according to previous reports. Some people in Asia believe that the rhinos have medicinal properties for treating everything from hangovers to cancer.

The final details and permits for transferring Harapan are still being worked out, but the zoo officials expect Harapan to fly to Jakarta, and then be taken by ferry to his ancestral island home of Sumatra, Roth said.

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