Top researchers have said that it is almost certain that the Sumatran rhino has gone extinct in the wild in Malaysia, leaving fewer than 100 in Indonesia. Intensive surveys of the country since 2007 have yielded no wild Sumatran rhinos, apart from two females, one in 2011 and another in 2014, which were both taken to captivity for breeding purposes in a bid to save the species. In a report published in Oryx, conservationists led by the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen have urged all relevant parties to up their efforts for saving the rhino.
Fewer than 100 remain in three locations across Indonesia after the species experienced a 70% dip in the population in the past 10 years. Nine more remain in captivity, with one in Cincinnati Zoo, three in Sabah, Malaysia for attempts to produce embryos by in vitro fertilization, and five in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Sumatra, Indonesia.
Lead author Rasmus Gren Havmøller said: "It is vital for the survival of the species that all remaining Sumatran rhinos are viewed as a metapopulation, meaning that all are managed in a single program across national and international borders in order to maximize overall birth rate. This includes the individuals currently held in captivity."
One solution that the report suggests to stave off complete extinction could be the possibility of establishing intensive management zones where there is increased security efforts to protect the Sumatran rhino from poaching.
Christy Williams, co-author and coordinator of the WWF Asian and Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy, said: "The tiger in India was saved from extinction due to the direct intervention of Mrs Gandhi, the then prime minister, who set up Project Tiger. A similar high level intervention by President Joko Widodo of Indonesia could help pull the Sumatran rhinos back from the brink."
Widodo Ramono, co-author and director of the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia (YABI) adds: "Serious effort by the government of Indonesia should be put to strengthen rhino protection by creating an intensive protection zone (IPZ), intensive survey of the current known habitats, habitat management, and captive breeding, and mobilizing national resources and support from related local governments and other stakeholders."
Captive breeding was identified in 2013 as one way of saving the animal but the experts warn that this could take several years to implement.