The ‘Hairy Rhino’ Is Now Extinct in Malaysia

Fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos are left in the wild.

A Sumatran rhino in Way Kambas National Park, southern Sumatra, Indonesia. (Photo: Mark Carwardine/Getty Images)

Aug 22, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

The rarest and smallest species of rhinoceros, the Sumatran rhino, has been declared extinct in Malaysia.

The announcement comes from a group of scientists who looked at the distribution of the world’s most endangered large animal and found none in a country that was once part of its primary habitat.

Since 2007, only two Sumatran rhino females have been sighted in Malaysia—one in 2011 and one in 2014—and both were captured for captive breeding.

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The population study, published in the conservation journal Oryx on Wednesday, was led by researchers at the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Macroecology.

The scientists declared the future of the rhino grim owing to poaching, habitat loss, and underfunded antipoaching efforts.

“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,” Rasmus Gren Havmøller, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “This includes the individuals currently held in captivity.”

A lack of accurate population surveys in much of the rhino’s historical range across southeast Asia has left the researchers without an accurate estimate of how many Sumatran rhinos—dubbed “hairy rhinos” for their unique brown fur coat—remain in the wild. Previous estimates put the world population around 100. Indonesia is now the lone home of the species in the wild.

The captive breeding program for the species has proved mostly ineffective. The 45 rhinos taken from the wild since 1984 have resulted in only two breeding pairs and four rhino babies.

“Serious effort by the government of Indonesia should be put to strengthen rhino protection by creating Intensive Protection Zones, intensive survey of the current known habitats, habitat management, captive breeding, and mobilizing national resources and support from related local governments and other stakeholders,” Widodo Ramono, a coauthor of the study and the director of the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia, said in a statement.