Sumatran Rhino – Critically Endangered – 55 left

The Sumatran Rhino, also known as the hairy rhino, is the  oldest species of rhino existing today. It evolved more than twenty million years ago. The Sumatran Rhino is the last existing species of an otherwise extinct family of rhinoceros, that included the woolly rhino hunted to extinction by humans 10,000 years ago.

Image of Sumatran Rhino in forest, previous home to the Sumatran Rhino

The Sumatran Rhino

It is the smallest of all known rhino species, said to be around 1.25 meters high, about 2.5 meters long and weighing in at up to 950 kg. Sumatran rhinos are solitary animals and roam a territory of approximately 2,500 hectares. They live for up to forty years.

Female Sumatran rhinos are sexually mature at 4 years whilst the male rhinos are ready to mate at 7 years. Females only ovulate if they are in contact with males. Moreover, if females do not get pregnant and give birth, they are known to develop cancer of the uterus and eventually lose their ability to reproduce. The gestation period is fifteen to eighteen months. Female rhinos give birth to one calf at a time about every three years.

Originally the Sumatran Rhinos were present throughout Southeast Asia and in parts of India and China, but the species has now gone extinct everywhere except for Sumatra, Indonesia. The species became extinct in Malaysia in 2015.

Image of Sumatran Rhino mother and cub in forest

Sumatran Rhinoceros – Mother and Calf

We find the remaining Sumatran Rhinos in isolated high ground of Sumatran rainforests having been pushed out of their ideal habitat by humans . It is thought that that these rhinos would breed and feed better if they could have continued to live in the drier lowland forests.

Sumatran Rhinos are today one of the most endangered land mammals on Earth. They have become almost impossible to encounter in the wild. Staff of The Indonesian Rhino Foundation state that it has only been seen once in the wild in the last 40 years. There is however some evidence, such as camera shots, dung and footprints, that Sumatran Rhinos still live in the wild in four different places in Indonesia. This is the last country in the world with a wild population. It is estimated that only 30 to 80 individuals still live in the wild and just 9 in captivity.

In 1986, the Sumatran rhino was listed as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature with an estimated population of 400 to 800 individuals. Ten years later, the species became listed as critically endangered with the population estimated then at 400 rhinos. In 2008, the estimate was down to less than 300.

Image of rainforest in Sumatra, home of the Sumatran Rhino

Rainforest in Sumatra

As for the rest of the Indonesian wildlife, notably the Sumatran Elephant and the Sumatran Tiger, the Sumatran Rhino is affected by the shrinkage and fragmentation of its natural forest habitat. There was massive forest loss in Sumatra between 1990 and 2012. Poaching is another key cause for the catastrophic collapse in its population. It is hunted for its horn and also accidently caught in snares meant for other animals.

40% of the lowland forests in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo were cleared by humans in the fifteen years between 1990 and 2005.

Cutting and burning of forests started in the early 1900s to make way for the cultivation of coffee and oil drilling in Northern Sumatra. More forests areas were later cleared for the pulp & paper industry. The death knell for the forests in Sumatra started ringing with the felling of forests in the 1980s that carries on to this day to make way for the industrial farming of oil palms for the palm oil industry. Palm oil is found in half the processed food that you buy.

A Greenpeace 2018 report called “Dying for a Cookie” explains how twelve brands are using palm oil from 20 suppliers that are all allegedly at fault for destroying the rainforests in Indonesia. Those that are cited as using the tainted palm oil product are: Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, L’Oreal, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever.

The report found a total of 25 palm oil suppliers had cleared more than 320,000 acres of rainforest since the end of 2015. That is an area almost twice the size of Singapore that has been destroyed in less than three years.

Image of deforested barren land in Sumatra

Pepsico, Unilever and Nestlé have been accused of complicity in the destruction of Sumatra’s last tract of rainforest shared by elephants, orangutans, rhinos, and tigers together in one ecosystem.

The biological make-up of the Sumatran Rhino places it especially at risk. The females simply loose the capacity to breed as they become isolated in fragments of forests unable to cross over to other forested areas because of the human infrastructure that separates them. Even when they manage to cross over to larger forested areas, the population needs time to recover given the long reproductive cycle of females. There has been some successful captive breeding and releasing into reserves, however the situation remains highly critical.

The odd 55 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild are spread over a few populations. Only one of these populations is thought to reach the number of fifteen male and female individuals necessary to facilitate breeding. It is clear that without human protection of this endangered species, rewilding of degraded habitats, grouping more males and females into fewer populations and more captive breeding and releasing, this rhino species is doomed to extinction. Having said all this, it may today be too late as the Sumatran Rhino may already be functionally extinct.

Notwithstanding having known about the predicament of the Sumatrans Rhinos for at least 34 years we have again failed to act in time to save this species. We have continued to destroy its habitat and have allowed their numbers to fall below those necessary for viable populations.



Main Source; The Spice Route End 

Related article: How Species Become Extinct

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