Researchers Make First Contact in 40 Years With the World’s Smallest Rhino

March 23, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Sumatran rhino
Photo credit: Ari Wibowo / WWF-Indonesia

This species was believed to have gone extinct in the region.

Researchers from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are celebrating after the first live sighting and capture of a Sumatran rhino in the Kalimantan, the Indonesian part Borneo, in over 40 years. This species of rhino were believed to have gone extinct in the area, so this marks a major milestone for rhino conservation in Indonesia.

“That’s a very, very rare thing,” Simon Stuart, a rhino expert from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, told Adam Vaughan at The Guardian. “Finding a single Sumatran rhino is good news given we can’t even account for 100 in the world.”

The Sumatran rhinoceros, also known as the Asian two-horned rhinoceros, is the smallest species of rhino in the world, but still weighs around 500 to 1,000 kilograms (1,100 to 2,200 pounds).

Sumatran rhino

Photo credit: Ari Wibowo / WWF-Indonesia

It is estimated that there are fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild due to threats from poaching and habitat loss and there are only nine individuals in zoos around the world. Luckily, conservationists were finally able to safely capture this female Sumatran rhino in a pit trap in Kutai Barat in East Kalimantan on March 12, which means she can now be protected from poachers, and potentially bred.

“This is an exciting discovery and a major conservation success,” Dr. Efransjah, CEO of WWF-Indonesia said in the press release. “We now have proof that a species once thought extinct in Kalimantan still roams the forests, and we will now strengthen our efforts to protect this extraordinary species.”

Back in 2013, a WWF survey team discovered evidence that the species was not extinct in Kalimantan by identifying footprints, dung, and capturing an image of a rhino on a camera trap in the same forest. Since then, 15 Sumatran rhinos have been identified in three populations in Kutai Barat. The wild population of Sumatran rhinos in the Malaysian part of Borneo was declared extinct in 2015.

SEE ALSO: Northern white rhinoceros on cusp of extinction

The captured female rhino is being held in a temporary disclosure before being relocated by helicopter to a new home — a protected forest about 160 kilometers (99 miles) from the capture site. The location is fairly hush-hush because poachers often use headlines like this to search out and poach the animals.

“This is a race against time for rhino conservation. Providing a safe home is the only hope for the the survival of the Sumatran rhino for many generations to come,” said Efransjah. “WWF will work continuously with the Sumatran rhino conservation team for the protection of the Sumatran rhino population in Kalimantan.”

The conservationists next steps are to increase efforts to find more live Sumatran rhinos in the area, which includes locating the 15 individuals seen in the camera traps. The hopes is that if they capture enough of the rhinos, a viable breeding program can form, but time is of the essence. “The female of the species need to breed regularly or can develop tumours that render them infertile,” The Guardian reported.

At least now there is hope that these beautiful creatures can be brought back from the brink of extinction.

You might also like: Moratorium on Rhino Horn Trade Lifted Just as Poaching Levels Fall in South Africa

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