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    The Critically Endangered Sumatran Rhino Has Been Given a Glimmer of Hope

    Written by

    Derek Mead


    A Sumatran rhino in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra, via Willem Strien/Wikipedia

    The rhino poaching crisis mainly affects white rhinos (and black rhinos to a lesser extent) largely because they're the most populous rhinos around. (Still, with more than 200 rhinos already poached this year, white rhinos are disappearing quickly.) But what's often overlooked is the plight of the Sumatran rhinoceros, which is critically endangered, with less than 100 individuals left.

    Today, the Sumatran rhino, which is the smallest rhino left on Earth, received what maybe its last shot at survival. At the conclusion of the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit, the Indonesian and Malaysian governments came to an agreement to work together to save the species. The meeting, brokered by the IUCN's Species Survival Commission, should help secure the Sumatran rhino's remaining habitat in Sumatra, which is part of Indonesia, and Sabah, Malaysia.

    As these things go, the announcement only means that the two countries agree to work together, and they still need to figure out how the partnership will work. According to the IUCN, the rhino and conservation experts at the conference have already proposed their vision of a two-year emergency plan for what should be done. Regardless, officials are striking a positive tone.

    “Serious steps must be taken to roll back the tide of extinction of the Sumatran rhino,”  Widodo Ramano, executive director of Yayasan Badak Indonesia, said in the IUCN's release. “This could be our last opportunity to save this species and, by working together as a collaborative unit, internationally and regionally, with an agreed vision and goals, a glimmer of hope has been clearly demonstrated. We need to act together urgently, hand in hand, replicating some of the inspirational successes of other conservation efforts and aim to stop any failures that might impede progress.”

    The Cincinnati Zoo has found success with a Sumatran rhino captive breeding program.

    Still, there's a long road ahead. The Sumatran rhino has been listed as critically endangered since 1996, and according to the IUCN's Red List, has still experienced an 80 percent population decline in the last three generations (which is calculates to be 20 years at a time). The rhinos were once spread from southeast Asia to India, but hunting and horn demand has pushed them to the brink.

    Poaching is still a massive threat to the rhinos, which is why Erik Meijaard, writing in Monga Bay, called out WWF-Indonesia for announcing it had found a lone Sumatran rhino in a region it was thought to be extinct in, which Meijaard feels put a target on the animal's back. 

    But beyond that, the rhinos' range has shrunk immensely, which is a very real constraint on any population growth. And even then, and anti-poaching efforts are hugely difficult–as well as monumentally important right now. On top of all of that is the simple fact that there needs to be Sumatran rhinos, and the individuals are now so isolated that running into each other to get busy isn't common.

    One positive note is that captive breeding efforts have found some success, and may prove to help grow the species if more effort is put into that arena. Regardless, Sumatran rhinos are in rough shape, and they're going to need a lot of help to survive and thrive. This new agreement between their two home countries is certainly an important step in that direction.