The Sumatran rhinoceros, one of the rarest and critically endangered species of rhinos in the world, is now likely extinct in the wilderness of Malaysia. In fact, experts could find no signs of the animal since 2007 – except for two female rhinos that were captured for breeding in 2011 and 2014, according to a paper published in the journal Oryx.
The rhinos were once abundant across Southeast Asia – however, due to the loss of natural habitat and an increase in poaching and hunting over the past few decades, their numbers have plummeted significantly.
Conservationists believe that the survival of the species now depends on fewer than 100 remaining rhinoceros in the wilds of Indonesia and 9 others in captivity.
“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,” stated lead author Rasmus Gren Havmøller, from the Natural History Museum of Denmark. “This includes the individuals currently held in captivity.”
Sumatran rhinos aren’t the only of their species to go extinct. Their cousin, the Javan rhino, went extinct in Malaysia after the last one was shot in 1932.
“We should certainly be thinking of boosting Sumatran rhino numbers through a single program that is not based on nationalistic thinking,” said Borneo Rhino Alliance head Datuk Dr Junaidi Payne.
Since their horns are extremely valuable in the black market, all rhino species are under threat of complete extinction. Although animal conservationists have implemented various strategies, from advanced reproduction to rangers guarding the animals, the number continues to dwindle.
The most popular efforts to help these species survive includes cross-breeding with other rhino species and producing a baby via IVF and surrogacy. Other methods include flooding the black market with fake rhino horns to bring down the value of the ivory. Rangers could also be deployed to keep a check on them.
For instance, a Northern white rhino, Sudan, who is the last male of his species, is guarded day and night by a team of four armed guards in Kenya.
Anti-poaching strategies include implanting a tracker device on the animal that monitors its heart rate and location, with cameras drilled into the rhino's horns for proper supervision. Rhinos are also being relocated to national parks in South Africa to keep them away from hunters and poachers.