Save for two females captured in 2011 and 2014 for captive breeding programs, Malaysia has not seen a Sumatran rhinoceros in the wild since 2007. Now scientists have asserted that the animal is extinct in the wild there.
The sad conclusion is documented in the conservation journal Oryx by a team of scientists led by the University of Copenhagen's Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate.
The picture is grim for the Sumatran rhino, according to the researchers. It once ranged across much of Southeast Asia, but now its numbers have shrunk to about 100 left in the wild in Indonesia and nine others that are safeguarded in captivity.
The focus now turns to ways to protect those remaining creatures.
"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. This includes the individuals currently held in captivity," the paper's lead author, University of Copenhagen PhD student Rasmus Gren Havmøller, said in a press release.
The researchers make a number of suggestions for how the situation might over time be improved for the rhinos. Among them is the creation of "management zones," to which rhinos can be moved and in which there are increased protections for the animals.
The nine rhinos in captivity are spread across several facilities. One is held in the Cincinnati Zoo in the United States, though it will soon be relocated to Indonesia. Three are in Sabbah, Malaysia and the remaining five are in a rhino sanctuary in Sumatra, Indonesia. It's hoped that the Sabbah rhinos will be able to produce embryos via in vitro fertilization.
"Serious effort by the government of Indonesia should be put to strengthen rhino protection by creating Intensive Protection Zone, intensive survey of the current known habitats, habitat management, captive breeding, and mobilizing national resources and support from related local governments and other stakeholders," said Widodo Ramono, a co-author of the paper and director of the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia.