Only a single captive rhino is now left in Malaysia, where the animals once roamed.
Sumatran rhinos are among the world’s most endangered animals and were declared officially extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015. Conservationists were pinning their hopes on three captive rhinos: a male and two females.
The three animals, which had all been captured from the wild to save them from poachers, were held at a captive-breeding facility where experts tried to produce new offspring through in-vitro fertilization.
Those hopes have been dealt another setback. One of the females succumbed to cancer in 2017, and now Tam, a 30-year-old male, too, has died. Of the trio, only a female called Iman survives, spending her days at a nature reserve on the island of Borneo.
“With Tam gone, we now only have Iman left, our last female rhino,” the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Malaysian branch laments. “If we are not careful, the Sumatran rhino will not be the only species that will go extinct under our watch.”
The prospects of critically endangered Sumatran rhinos, which are the world’s smallest living rhinos, are looking increasingly bleak. Only perhaps as few as three dozen of them are left in neighboring Indonesia, where continued habitat loss and the ever-present threat of poaching pose an existential threat to them.
Sumatran rhinos, which dwell in thick forests, have been hunted relentlessly for their horns, which are believed to have curative powers by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Some experts see the only hope for the rhinos in captive breeding programs of the kind that have worked wonders with some previously critically endangered species like China’s giant pandas. Yet with so few Sumatran rhinos left, time is running out for the species.
Iman is ageing and repeated attempts to get her pregnant artificially have failed. She is still producing eggs, however.
“We just have to look after the last remaining rhino,” said Augustine Tuuga, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department. “That’s all we can do, and try – if possible – to work with Indonesia,” he said.