The last Sumatran rhinos

According to the World Wildlife Fund, their number is 30 specimens

by Lorenzo Ciotti
The last Sumatran rhinos

Indonesia's Environment Ministry started an official count of Sumatran rhinos in February 2019, which is expected to be completed in three years. Malaysia's last known male and female Sumatran rhinos died in May and November 2019 respectively.

The species is now considered locally extinct in Malaysia and survives only in Indonesia. Fewer than 80 remain. According to the World Wildlife Fund, their number is 30 specimens. The Sumatran rhinoceros lives in secondary rainforests, both lowland and mountain, swamps and fog forests.

It prefers hilly regions close to water, especially valleys surrounded by steep slopes with thick undergrowth. Its range once extended continuously northwards, as far as Burma, eastern India and Bangladesh.

Unconfirmed testimonies reported that it was also present in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Currently its presence is only confirmed in peninsular Malaysia, on the island of Sumatra and in Sabah. Some conservationists hope that some specimens still survive in Burma, but this seems rather remote. Political turmoil within the country has so far prevented any inspection or study of possible surviving specimens.

The Sumatran rhino is present in its range discontinuously, much more than other Asian rhinos, which makes it very difficult for conservationists to effectively protect the few remaining specimens. Only six areas are known where this behemoth survives more consistently: Bukit Barisan Selatan, Gunung Leuser, Kerinci Seblat and Way Kambas national parks in Sumatra, Taman Negara National Park in Peninsular Malaysia and the Tabin nature reserve in Sabah, on the island of Borneo.

While not as rare as the Javan one, it has suffered greatly from the effects of poaching and habitat destruction, and the remaining populations are small and fragmented; Javan rhinos, on the other hand, all belong to a single large population located on the Javanese peninsula of Ujung Kulon.

While Ujung Kulon rhino numbers have remained relatively stable, Sumatran rhino numbers are believed to continue to decline. Its current status as a critically endangered species is mainly due to poaching and the destruction of rainforests.

Much of its range is currently located in the inaccessible mountainous areas of Indonesia. Poaching, although not as important a threat as it is for African species (in terms of number of animals killed), is a risk factor that should not be underestimated, as traders believe that if the species becomes increasingly rare, the price of its horn, estimated today at $30,000 per kilo, would rise to even higher figures.
The rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia, a refuge for the Sumatran rhinoceros, are also targeted by logging companies, both legal and illegal, due to the quality of the hardwoods found there.

n June 2017, Puntung was put down due to skin cancer. Tam died on May 27, 2019 and Iman died of cancer on November 23, 2019 at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary. The species became extinct in Malaysia, its homeland, in 2019. In Indonesia, meanwhile, a seventh rhino has joined the group at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, in Way Kambas NP. A female was born on May 12, 2016.