Posted In Conservation | 27th February 2024

Saving Sumatran Rhinos from Extinction

Dublin Zoo is working in partnership with Save the Rhino International, other international conservation organisations and dedicated Indonesian NGOs to support the work of the Government of Indonesia to increase the population of Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinos.

These wonderful and precious animals once roamed across much of East and Southeast Asia, but are now confined to fragments of primary forest in Sumatra’s Gunung Leuser and Way Kambas National Parks, while a few isolated animals inhabit central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). The Government’s official estimate is that fewer than 80 individuals remain, but recent estimates put the population as low as 34 animals. Because numbers are so low, Sumatran rhinos are very difficult to track and monitor, and the rhinos are increasingly unlikely to encounter others of their species and breed. To compound matters, female Sumatran rhinos often develop reproductive problems if they do not breed regularly.

The Government of Indonesia and international rhino conservation experts have agreed that the only way to bring the Sumatran rhino back from the brink of extinction is to bring together the fragmented and widely dispersed wild populations into managed breeding facilities under an emergency action plan. Dublin Zoo is supporting the main Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park, where ten animals currently form the only captive breeding group of Sumatran rhinos in the world, benefitting from expert nutrition and veterinary care. Each of the rhino bomas at the sanctuary are approximately 30 acres in size, providing access for the rhinos to native plant species for food, and mud wallows for bathing.

This centre has seen some incredible successes, and in November 2023 a new male calf was the latest addition to the group at the Sanctuary. It is hoped that, in time, these rhinos may form the ‘founder’ group that can repopulate former safe rhino habitat.
The Sumatran rhino is considered Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List, with as few as 34-47 animals left in the world. The main threats to the Sumatran rhino are habitat loss and fragmentation, which has created small and isolated populations of rhinos. Historically, the Sumatran rhino roamed across Bhutan and eastern India, Myanmar, Thailand, and possibly even to Vietnam and China. Today, the species only survives on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

On this new partnership, Jon Taylor, Managing Director, Save the Rhino International (November 2023) said:

“The Sumatran rhino is arguably the most endangered large land mammal in the world, with some estimates putting the global population as low as 34 individuals. Save the Rhino International is proud to partner with Dublin Zoo to provide support to the Government of Indonesia’s Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra, which is leading a breeding programme to grow the population of these precious animals, so that one day they can again flourish in their natural forest habitat.”

Images featured in this piece are courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

For more information, visit the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary Page.