3 Moves That Could Save the Nearly Extinct Sumatran Rhino

Experts identify five key areas of forest in Borneo that must be protected.

A Sumatran rhinoceros photographed in Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia. (Photo: Courtesy Leuser International Foundation/Gunung Leuser National Park)

Sep 18, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

Poaching has decimated the Sumatran rhino from a population of tens of thousands two centuries ago to no more than 100 animals today. The species has been the victim of surging demand for rhino horn in Asia for traditional Chinese medicines.

In a new research study, scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, have identified five important forest zones in the rhino’s range that they believe must be kept intact from development and safe from poachers if the species is to survive.

Writing in the journal Public Library of Science this week, the scientists called on political leaders to find the will to take three crucial steps that represent a last-ditch effort to save Sumatran rhinos in the wild. They include establishing strong environmental and antipoaching protections for the five forest areas; halting road-building plans that would encroach on these forest patches; and concentrating the rhino population, which is scattered across about 11,583 square miles of park and forest lands.

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Officials must come to grips with the fact that the Sumatran rhino will probably vanish for good if they do not act to save it in what is left of its native range, the researchers said. “Today, conservationists and wildlife managers may have to consider conservation ‘triage’ for Sumatran rhinos that now exist in the wild,” they wrote.

“The question remains, is it more feasible to capture all remaining rhinos and save them through the yet-unproven strategy of captive breeding, or is there still a chance for wild population persistence?” they added. “At this point in time, there is no easy answer.”