The Sumatran Rhino is in crisis. Without immediate intensive support, the species is likely to enter an irreversible extinction vortex. With less than 80 animals on Earth surviving in multiple fragmented sub-populations across the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, and with only nine animals in captivity, we must take drastic measures to save the species.
Historically Sumatran Rhinos were found across Southeast Asia, but thousands of years of targeted hunting led to their gradual extirpation. Since the 1980s, the species has been lost from Cambodia, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Kerinci Seblat National Park on Sumatra. Similar to the Javan Rhino, where the last animal on mainland Southeast Asia was lost to a poacher in 2010, the last chance for the species lies with Indonesia.
The decline of the Sumatran Rhino was initially caused by poaching for their horns, and possibly widespread historic forest loss across Southeast Asia. While the threat of poaching remains ever present, the extinction of the species is now being driven by small population size with animals isolated in tiny pockets, resulting in too few animals finding it hard to find and breed with each other and in-breeding. In addition, the longer females are isolated, the longer they do not breed, making them less likely to be able to reproduce and replenish the dwindling population.
How is the Sumatran Rhino different from African rhinos?
Most people think of African rhinos when they picture a rhino: large rhinos walking around in dry grass- or bush-land. There are actually five species of rhino, three of which are found only in Asia. While the African rhinos are facing very intense poaching pressure, the numbers of both species continue to slowly creep up. Today there are more than 20,000 White Rhinos and more than 5,500 Black Rhinos. The rhinos of Indonesia are different—they live in dense rainforest and are hard to see, so few people know they exist.
Sumatran Rhinos are the sole species in their genus and are in fact more closely related to the extinct Woolly Rhinos than any living rhino species. As testament to this relationship, Sumatran Rhinos are hairy. Wild rhinos have short course hair across their body, which is kept short by rubbing against vegetation and wallow walls. Babies and captive animals, however, have long shaggy hair.
Sumatran Rhinos are also quite vocal and are playfully called the “singing rhino” at times. Babies, especially, will make a whole range of sounds, seemingly chatting and singing with their mothers.
Sumatran Rhinos are also small—for a rhino. They stand about chest height and weigh up to 800 pounds, significantly smaller than their African cousins. Their size, hair, and singing all make for great adaptations to living in the dense rainforests of Southeast Asia.
Can the species be saved?
Yes, but we don’t have much time and must act now.
What needs to be done?
Since the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit in 2012, the government agencies, academic institutions, conservation groups, and the zoo community have held extensive discussions and conducted many studies that have led to everyone coming together behind a single to plan to save the species. The plan may seem simple, but it will take a huge effort to deliver the speed and quality of implementation that is required to save the species:
- Maintain wild populations in two locations in Way Kambas and Gunung Leuser National Parks.
- Support the establishment of a viable conservation breeding program for Sumatran Rhinos in Indonesia.
What is GWC doing?
GWC is supporting anti-poaching efforts in Way Kambas National Park through our partners International Rhino Foundation (IRF) and Yayasan Badak Indonesia (YABI). Here we support Rhino Protection Units to patrol the park and monitor the rhino population.
GWC is working with our partner Forum Konservasi Leuser (FKL) in Gunung Leuser National Park to develop appropriate support for anti-poaching and monitoring.
GWC is also helping to coordinate a group of organizations dedicated to establishing a Sumatra Rhino National Conservation Breeding Program that is specifically called for in the Indonesian government’s Emergency Action Plan for the species. This effort aims to establish three conservation breeding centers and create a viable breeding population, building on the successful work of IRF and YABI at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. Because the main threat to the survival of the species is that the animals are spread apart and cannot find one another to breed, the collaborative Sumatran Rhino Rescue project aims to capture as many rhinos as possible and to breed them to produce baby rhinos to ensure the future of the species. This effort is a joint effort of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment, IUCN Species Survival Commission, National Geographic, IRF, WWF and GWC.
Number of rhinos left
Less than 80
Closely related to
The Woolly Rhino