sumatran rhino
Only about 100 Sumatran rhinos remain alive in the wild todayGetty

Indonesia's government will convert a former gold mining site located in the east of the country into a sanctuary for Sumatran rhinos, after 15 examples to the near-extinct species were spotted in the area.

The Sumatran rhino is among the most threatened types of rhinos in the world. WWF estimates there are fewer than 100 animals alive today. This shy, two-horned rhino, the smallest of all, is particularly targeted by poaching. In the Kalimantan region, where conservationists discovered the 15 individuals, they were thought to be extinct.

"This is a good news... If we find 10 more, the species can be saved. We need to move fast because their existence is under constant threat." Tachrir Fathoni, the forestry ministry's head of ecosystem conservation, told Mongabay environmental news website.

Footprints and videos

Hopes regarding the existence of a Sumatra rhinos rose in 2013, when a group of scientists, who were studying orangutans in Kalimantan, came across rhino footprints. Although this was a significant discovery, they had to wait two more years, and use video cameras installed in the trees to spot the animals.

sumatran rhino
Sumatran rhinos are the smallest rhinos, with two hornsSupri Supri/Reuters

Conservationists hope to find more rhinos than the 15 they have already identified, and place their hopes in a young male they were able to observe for the survival of the species. "We identified at least one young Sumatran rhino, so there's a potential of male existence and that they were able to breed," WWF Indonesia communication director Nyoman Iswarayoga said.

Now, the challenge will be to build the sanctuary as quickly as possible, and to safely transfer the animals into it. The total area should cover up to 200 hectares of land, and will be labelled a "wildlife reserve", offering the rhinos a high level of protection like in other natural parks of the country. On 14 March 2016, a new Rhino Protection Unit for the Kalimantan region was inaugurated.

In Indonesia, the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia and International Rhino Foundation lead the so-called Rhino Protection Units, teams of four people who patrol national parks and act against poaching. In the parks where they operate, no rhinos have been poached in more than seven years.