Image: A captive Sumatran rhino called Harpan, photographed by Joel Sartore for Photo Ark, at White Oak Conservation Center, Florida
April 24. There are no Sumatran rhinos left in the wild in the Malaysian state of Sabah, the Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Masidi Manjun, has confirmed. In 2008, conservationists estimated there were around 50 rhinos in the state. Five years later, it dropped that estimate to just ten. Now, it's admitted the awful truth: the wild rhino is very likely gone. "We are facing the prospect of our Sumatran rhinos going extinct in our lifetime,” Manjun noted at an environment seminar this week.
Sabah's rhino is a distinct subspecies of Sumatran rhino, known as the Bornean rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni) and it now looks highly likely that the Bornean rhino may only be represented by three surviving individuals, all of which are held in fenced, natural conditions at the Borneo Rhinoceros Sanctuary (BRS) in Sabah. These include one male, Tam, and two females, Iman and Puntung.
In vitro hope
"If numbers of baby Sumatran rhinos can quickly be boosted in the coming few years, there is still hope to save the species from extinction," said John Payne, the Executive Director of the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) and one of the world's top experts on the species. "The only way now to achieve that is to use in vitro fertilization to produce the embryos and to have a few fertile females in well-managed fenced facilities, under excellent care, as the surrogate mothers."
There may be a few more surviving Bornean rhinos, but these would be in Kalimantan or Indonesian Borneo. Two years ago, camera traps revealed at least one wild rhino in the state – after no records for decades.
Less than 100…
Across the Java Sea, the Sumatran rhino is holding on by a thread. Conservationists estimate that less than 100 rhinos survive today on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, split into fragmented populations spanning three national parks. Five of these rhinos are also held in semi-captive conditions at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, including a baby rhino born three years ago.
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