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The last male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia has died. Now only a single female in Malaysia and about 80 rhinos in Indonesia are all the remain of the species. The rhino, Tam died at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in the state of Sabah. They were captured and taken to the reserve in 2008, two attempts to breed with female rhinos were unsuccessful.
Iman the female rhino is now Malaysia’s last animals of the species whose number have been rapidly in decline in the last few decades due to habitat loss and poaching. Less than 80 rhinos are thought to continue to live in the wild in Sumatra. It is these devastatingly low numbers that are now the biggest threat to the animals.
Breeding window is small
Female rhinos can develop cysts on their reproductive organs if they go too long without mating. This was the suspected reason why attempts to breed Tam and Iman failed. Last year a coalition of animal protection groups came together to launch the Sumatran Rhino Rescue.
The project will start to capture as many wild rhinos as possible and transfer them to wildlife parks where they will assist to reproduce by animal experts. The project is led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission, in coordination with Global Wildlife Conservation, International Rhino Foundation, National Geographic Society, and WWF. The Indonesian Government is also supporting the project.
Time is not on our side
“If we wait a few more years, there won’t be enough rhinos left to bring together,” says Barney Long, senior director for species conservation at Global Wildlife Conservation. “Every month that goes by with each animal not breeding is a lost opportunity.
A similar effort in the 80s and 90s failed because the captured animals were sent to dispersed facilities and breeding efforts were not diverse enough. But new technologies and systems will give the project a much better chance. Terri Roth, a rhino expert successfully bred two Sumatran rhinos back in 2011.
The first calf born in captivity in 112 years was called Andalas—an old Indonesian word meaning Sumatra. The first animals captured as part of the program will be the animals thought to be living alone without a supporting community.
Surveillance cameras are being set up across Sumatra to track these animals before teams are sent to capture and relocate. The method to catch a 1700 pound rhino is something from a comic book. Researchers dig a large hole that they cover with branches and grasses. The unsuspecting rhino falls into the hall then is lifted out. Surprisingly this is the safest method that leaves the animal in minimal stress. But putting rhinos into captivity isn’t easy. The animals are very big loners and can become violent if they are housed to closely