With less than 100 Sumatran rhinos alive, scientists declare species extinct in Malaysia

By @vitthernandez on
Wild Sumatran Rhinoceros
A combo picture of Malaysian veterinarian Dr Aidi Mohamad pets "Minah" (L), and "Mas Merah", the two surviving Sumatran rhinos, at its conservation centre in Sungai Dusun, 110 km (68 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur on November 13, 2003. The 16-year-old "Minah" died early Sunday and "Mas Merah", 24, is seriously ill, as reported by the local daily New Straits Times. "Minah" is the latest rhino to succumb to the mysterious disease that has killed three other rhinos at the centre in two weeks. The world population may be below 300 individuals in the wild. Pictures are taken on 13 November 2003. Reuters

With the survival of the wild Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) depending on the 100 or less number in Indonesian jungle and nine in captivity, scientists consider the animal extinct in Malaysia. Since 2007, only two female rhinos are in captivity for breeding in Malaysia, leaving Indonesia to propagate the species.

Rasmus Gren Havmoller, PhD student at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen, said that all remaining rhinos in Sumatra are now viewed as a metapopulation. That means all rhinos, including those in captivity, are managed under one programme across national and international borders. The purpose of one programme is to maximise overall birth rate, reports News.ku.dk.

Part of the solution is to create intensive management zones that would boost protection against poaching and relocation of individual rhinos to improve the number of potential and suitable mating partners, said Havmoller, lead author of the study.

According to the study, published online in Oryx, the International Journal of Conservation, the less than 100 rhinos in Sumatra live in three separate populations. In one of the populations, there was an alarming 70 percent drop in distribution range in the last 10 years. The three are in Bukit Barisan Selatan, Gunung Leuser and Way Kambas National Park.

Between 2005 and 1980, the rhino population in the 1.4-million hectare Kerinci Sebalat National Park – the largest protected area in Sumatra – plummeted from 500 to less than 100. There are five more wild rhinos in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, three in Sabah, Malaysia, which are trying to produce embryos via in vitro fertilisation, and one in Cincinnati Zoo that would be moved to Indonesia.

Besides the rhinos, Bukit Barisan is also home to 40-50 tigers and 500 elephants, according to Rhino.org. It has seven Rhino Protection Units made up of four-person, highly trained anti-poaching teams that patrol intensively key areas in national parks across Indonesia. Besides spending at least half of the month on patrol, members of the units also record signs of the animal, tracks, dung, evidence of feeding and wallows.

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