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Now or never: what will take to save the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) from extinction

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  • The Habitat Foundation

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In 1994 Alan Rabinowitz decried what he regarded as lackadaisical attempts by governments, NGOs and international funding agencies to conserve the Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis. Sixteen years on it is timely to evaluate whether his warnings were heeded. We review the current conservation status of D. sumatrensis throughout its range and the latest threats and challenges complicating efforts to conserve this species. Recent data from governments, NGOs and researchers indicate that the global population could be as low as 216, a decline from c. 320 estimated in 1995. Based on lessons learnt and expert opinions we call on decision makers to focus on two core strategies for conservation of D. sumatrensis: (1) the translocation of wild individuals from existing small, isolated or threatened forest patches into semi-in situ captive breeding programmes, and (2) a concomitant enhancement of protection and monitoring capacities in priority areas that have established these breeding facilities or have recorded relatively high population estimates and track encounter rates. At least USD 1.2 million is required to implement these strategies annually in four priority areas: Bukit Barisan Selatan and Way Kambas National Parks on Sumatra, and Danum Valley Conservation Area and Tabin Wildlife Reserve on Sabah. Given that conservation funds are rarely secure and D. sumatrensis is still in decline we call on potential donors to help secure and augment existing capacities of organizations in these four priority areas before committing resources to elucidate the status of the species in other areas such as Gunung Leuser and Taman Negara National Parks.
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... Sumatran rhinoceros has the smallest body compared to another member of the family Rhinocerotidae [1]. Sumatran rhinoceros population now remains in Aceh, Lampung and South Sumatra only [2]. Sumatran rhinoceros is a very sensitive wild animal that likes to live away from the crowds and humans disturbance [3]. ...
... Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary is a breeding center for Sumatran Rhinoceros that established in 1998 as a last effort to save the population from extinction [2]. The Sumatran rhinoceros is now Critically Endangered species according to International Union Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources [8], with a decreasing population trend, and confined to a few disjunct populations in Indonesia and Malaysia [9]. ...
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The Sumatran rhino is one of Indonesia’s endemic species. The decreasing number of its population made the sanctuary project become more important to maintain the population’s existence. Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary is one of the breeding projects to keep the existence of Sumatran rhinoceros. For successful management in a sanctuary, it is necessary to understand how wildlife daily behavior so it can be adjusted with any management steps that will be applied. The purpose of this research is to understand and to analyze the daily behavior of Sumatran rhinoceros in Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary at Way Kambas National Park. This research was conducted in July 2017. The data was collected by using Focal Animal Sampling and was analyzed with quantitative descriptive technique. The result showed that Sumatran rhinoceros behavior in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary was not significantly different from their natural behavior. The dominant behavior in the morning was feeding and at noon was resting, while the moving behavior constantly occurred between that behavior.
... Sumatran rhinoceroses were until recently widespread in SE Asia, from as far as the foothills of the Himalayas or Assam down to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo 33,34 . It has been estimated that the census population size has decreased by~70% over the past 20 years as a result of poaching and habitat change, but population declines had already been reported in 1939 31,[34][35][36][37] . ...
... Sumatran rhinoceroses were until recently widespread in SE Asia, from as far as the foothills of the Himalayas or Assam down to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo 33,34 . It has been estimated that the census population size has decreased by~70% over the past 20 years as a result of poaching and habitat change, but population declines had already been reported in 1939 31,[34][35][36][37] . However, it is difficult to obtain accurate estimates of the historical and contemporary population sizes since Sumatran rhinoceroses are solitary and live in dense rainforests. ...
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Small populations are often exposed to high inbreeding and mutational load that can increase the risk of extinction. The Sumatran rhinoceros was widespread in Southeast Asia, but is now restricted to small and isolated populations on Sumatra and Borneo, and most likely extinct on the Malay Peninsula. Here, we analyse 5 historical and 16 modern genomes from these populations to investigate the genomic consequences of the recent decline, such as increased inbreeding and mutational load. We find that the Malay Peninsula population experienced increased inbreeding shortly before extirpation, which possibly was accompanied by purging. The populations on Sumatra and Borneo instead show low inbreeding, but high mutational load. The currently small population sizes may thus in the near future lead to inbreeding depression. Moreover, we find little evidence for differences in local adaptation among populations, suggesting that future inbreeding depression could potentially be mitigated by assisted gene flow among populations.
... Malaysia has lost its Sumatran rhinoceros in 2019 due to a population crash beginning in the 1990s as a consequence of illegal hunting and conversion of prime forest habitats to agricultural plantations. In fact, the extinction of the animal has been well anticipated since 1983 (Flynn & Abdullah, 1983, 1984Zafir et al., 2011;Abdul-Hamid et al., 2013). The rhinoceros' body parts used to be highly prized by Chinese people all over Asia for its alternative medicinal qualities, and the illegal trade to fulfil an unsatiable demand has further sealed its fate (Abdullah, 1985;Abdullah et al., 1989;Zainuddin et al., 1990;Abdul-Hamid et al., 2013) (Table 1). ...
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Campaigns for global ban of wildlife trade and consumption have been carried out extensively since the emergence the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) at the end of 2019. However, there was reportedly an initiative to use sun bear bile to treat this zoonotic disease in China. This new development may endanger sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) in Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, because around 60% of the traditional Chinese medicine shops offer the bear’s parts for treating various ailments. In our opinion, wildlife bans and conservative efforts need to be addressed systematically by strengthening law enforcement and banning wildlife product consumption and trade on various platforms, regardless of cultural belief. A movement control order is also proposed at forest reserve areas and national parks during the night or at certain periods. Collaborations are needed between enforcement agencies (e.g. Department of Wildlife and National Parks, police, the armed forces and Customs Department) to patrol protected forests and border smuggling points, besides adoption of the latest surveillance technology to keep the trade in check (e.g. long range drones with infrared thermal imaging system and geographic information system for crime mapping). Citizens can also play their role in aiding the effort through various awareness programmes and helping enforcement agencies by joining the People’s Volunteer Corps. Banning of wildlife trade and consumption, if globally monitored and enforced, may bring benefits to the world like preventing the spread of zoonotic diseases and wildlife sustainability.
... These interviews were conducted as part of a broader study on the seed dispersal network of the Belum-Temengor forest complex , Peninsular Malaysia, where the rhino is presumed to have gone extinct in the early 2000s (Zafir et al., 2011). Belum-Temengor is also dominated by the mast fruiting dipterocarp forests of Sundaland, with hill dipterocarp forest being most common. ...
Article
Diverse assemblages of seed‐dispersing megafauna once existed in Asian rainforests, but are now almost solely represented by elephants. Asia's rhinos persist in remnant, ecologically extinct populations and the most threatened of these is the Sumatran rhino, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis. To understand the seed dispersal role of Sumatran rhinos, we consolidated information on fruit consumption, seed dispersal, and fruit traits from a 2‐month field study (Sumatra), local ecological knowledge (Peninsular Malaysia), and published and unpublished accounts. We evaluated differences between the taxa and traits of fruits dispersed by rhinos and elephants, and identified other dispersers of megafaunal‐syndrome fruits that were rhino‐dispersed. At least 79 plant species were dispersed by rhinos: overstorey plants (trees and climbers; 78% of species) had large, usually “mammal‐colored,” fruits and seeds, and were mainly drupes and berries; 61% of these were megafaunal‐syndrome fruits (>4 cm wide). Understorey plants (herbs, shrubs, and small trees) had small, often capsular, fruits and seeds that are potentially dispersed following the “foliage‐is‐the‐fruit” hypothesis. Rhinos were the only known disperser for 35% of the megafaunal‐fruit genera. The highest dispersal overlap shown was with elephants: fruits dispersed by rhinos tended to be capsular and were smaller than fruits dispersed by both elephants and rhinos. Given these findings and the different foraging and ranging behavior of Sumatran rhinos and elephants, we suggest that these megafauna had important differences in their seed dispersal roles. Asian rainforests have, therefore, lost an important seed dispersal mutualist. Conservation efforts should aim to protect and restore the ecological function of these unique creatures. Abstract in Indonesian is available with online material. Kumpulan beragam megafauna penyebar benih pernah ada di hutan hujan Asia, tetapi sekarang hampir hanya diwakili oleh gajah. Badak Asia bertahan di sisa populasi yang punah secara ekologis dan yang paling terancam adalah badak Sumatera, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis. Untuk memahami peran penyebaran benih badak sumatera, kami menggabungkan informasi tentang konsumsi buah, penyebaran benih dan sifat buah dari studi lapangan dua bulan (Sumatera), pengetahuan ekologi lokal (Semenanjung Malaysia), dan akun yang diterbitkan dan tidak dipublikasikan. Kami mengevaluasi perbedaan antara taksa dan sifat buah yang disebarkan oleh badak dan gajah, dan mengidentifikasi penyebar buah sindrom megafaunal lainnya yang tersebar oleh badak. Sedikitnya 79 spesies tumbuhan disebarkan oleh badak: tumbuhan tingkat tinggi (pohon dan pemanjat; 78% spesies) memiliki buah dan biji besar, biasanya “berwarna seperti mamalia”, dan terutama buah berbiji dan berbiji; 61% di antaranya adalah buah sindrom megafaunal (lebar >4 cm). Tumbuhan bawah (herbal, semak, pohon kecil) memiliki buah dan biji kecil, seringkali berbentuk kapsul, yang berpotensi tersebar mengikuti hipotesis "dedaunan‐adalah‐buah". Badak adalah satu‐satunya penyebar yang diketahui untuk 35% dari genera buah megafaunal. Tumpang tindih penyebaran tertinggi yang ditunjukkan adalah dengan gajah: buah yang disebarkan oleh badak cenderung berbentuk kapsul dan lebih kecil daripada buah yang disebarkan oleh gajah dan badak. Mengingat temuan ini dan perbedaan perilaku mencari makan dan jelajah badak dan gajah Sumatera, kami menyarankan megafauna ini memiliki perbedaan penting dalam peran penyebaran benih mereka. Oleh karena itu, hutan hujan Asia telah kehilangan mutualis penyebaran benih yang penting. Upaya konservasi harus bertujuan untuk melindungi dan memulihkan fungsi ekologis makhluk unik ini. Once widely distributed throughout Southeast Asia, Sumatran rhinos are now ecologically extinct and are the most threatened megafauna species. We combined data from a field ecological study, local ecological knowledge, and the existing literature to evaluate their role as seed dispersers and compare with sympatric fruit‐eating animals, notably Asian elephants. We found at least 79 plants dispersed by Sumatran rhinos, including 37 “megafaunal” fruits, and concluded that their role as seed dispersers was different to that of Asian elephants.
... Other than clinical and pathological descriptions of the two leiomyoma variants, this report re-emphasizes the significance of reproductive diseases of Sumatran rhinoceros. Factors such as a critically small population, high risk of infertility, low success rate of captive breeding, lack of political support within and between countries, poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation (Zafir et al. 2011;Havmøller et al. 2016;Schaffer et al. 2020) may eventually lead to the extinction of Sumatran rhinoceros. More pregnancies are required not only for population growth, but also to prevent female rhinoceros reproductive lesions (Hermes et al. 2006). ...
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Following its capture in March 2014, an adult female Sumatran rhinoceros frequently showed profuse vaginal bleeding. An ultrasonography suggested the presence of multiple reproductive lesions, including two uterine masses which were suspected to be leiomyomas. Soon after, an open pyometra was confirmed. Later in November 2019, the patient died and necropsy confirmed the presence of two uterine masses; one was located at the cervico-uterine junction and another in the uterine body, with pyometra, and cystic endometrial hyerplasia. Based on histological, special stains, and immunohistochemical examination, it was shown that one of the masses was composed of large, ovoid and polyhedral neoplastic mesenchymal cells with eosinophilic cytoplasm and a few binucleated cells surrounded by collagen fibres. It was tested positive for SMA and vimentin, while negative for desmin, cytokeratin AE1/AE3, EMA, CD34, and S100. The other mass was composed of mesenchymal cells undergoing myxoid degeneration as evidenced by the presence of glycosaminoglycan-rich matrix. It was tested positive for SMA, vimentin, partially positive for desmin, and negative for the other markers. With the aid of human medical nomenclature, these masses were diagnosed as epithelioid leiomyoma and myxoid leiomyoma, respectively. This report provides a clinical presentation, and histologic descriptions of the two variants of leiomyomas that have not been reported in veterinary medicine.
... These hints can lead to new and feasible conservation strategies, especially when a population still exists but is so small as to be on the verge of total extinction (e.g., Tilson et al. 2004;Ahmad Zafir et al. 2011). ...
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The vanishing population of big cats is a global problem difficult to solve. In modern era several subspecies and populations of felids of the genus Panthera have become extinct, or locally extinct. The review of their story seems to show a common trend: a decrease of prey due to hunting and habitat destruction that leads to the decrease of predators, which switch to livestock creating conflicts with human. In many cases the micro populations of big cats are very difficult to detect, surviving for several years after their official extinction without it being possible to implement conservation strategies. To be effective, conservation measures must be as interdisciplinary as possible and include the active involvement of the locals.
... eine aktuelle schätzung geht davon aus, dass in Regenwäldern sumatras und auf dem Festland Malaysias nur noch etwa 200 und in sabah 12-15 tiere leben (tHieMe 2011). Man nimmt an, dass die noch existierenden Populationen zum teil bereits zu klein sind, um langfristig zu überleben (aHMad ZaFiR et al. 2011 (eiseNtRaut 1962). Wir berichten hier erstmals detailliert über das Bonner exemplar. ...
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Kurzfassung Wir erkunden die bisher unbekannte Herkunft und Geschichte eines sumatra-Nashorns (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) im Zoologischen Forschungsmuseum alexander koenig in Bonn mit biologischen und historischen Methoden. die morphologische analyse der dermoplastik weist auf eine geografische Herkunft des Weibchens aus sumatra. ein angeblich dazu gehöriger schädel stammt tatsächlich von einem spitzmaul-Nashorn (Diceros bicornis); die botanische Bestimmung von Pflanzenresten in dessen Backenzähnen ergab, dass es zuletzt Rosen-und Weißdornzweige fraß und daher in Menschenobhut in europa verstarb. Fehlende abriebspuren an den Hörnern des sumatra-Nashorns deuten darauf hin, dass das tier nicht lange in Gefangenschaft lebte; es konnte aber keinem der bisher dokumentierten importe nach europa zugeordnet werden. das tier starb etwa 1913 und gelangte dann in die sammlung des Naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins der stadt Wuppertal, von wo es 1941 zusammen mit anderen Objekten nach Bonn an das Museum alexander koenig vertauscht wurde. initiator dieser und weiterer tausch-und Verkaufsaktionen war dr. Max Hoffmann, seit 1939 Vorstand des Naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins und des Naturwissenschaftlichen Museums der stadt Wuppertal und zugleich kreisleiter des Ns-Reichsbundes für Vorgeschichte. seine intention war die umwandlung der weltoffenen Wuppertaler sammlungen in eine art "Germanisches Museum für Vorgeschichte und Naturkunde"; dafür wurden von ihm alle exotischen sammlungen verkauft oder vertauscht. er folgte damit den Richtlinien der national-sozialistischen kulturbürokratie, die auch alle anderen naturkundlichen Museen und Vereine unter zen-trale kontrolle zu bringen versuchte. in dem Bonner Ornithologen und sammlungsverwalter dr. adolf von Jordans fand Hoffmann einen kongenialen Partner, der aus anderen Motiven heraus auf Hoffmanns tauschwünsche einging und nach dem tode alexander koenigs 1940 über 500 säugetier-und Vogelpräparate nach Wuppertal transportieren ließ. Abstract using biological and historical methods we investigate the so far unknown origin and history of a sumatran rhino mount (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum alexander koenig in Bonn. Morphological analyses of the taxidermy point to a sumatran origin of the female. a supposedly corresponding skull was identified as that of a juvenile Black rhino (Diceros bicornis); the botanical determination of plant remains in the molars of this skull showed that in its final days the Black rhino fed on rose and hawthorn twigs and leaves and therefore must have died in human care in europe.
... With weak law and policy enforcement, understaffed and underfunded management in protected areas becomes fragile and not able to resist the external pressure to the protected areas' boundaries and effectively conserve biodiversity (Dudley et al., 2004b;Muhumuza and Balkwill, 2013). The evidence of poor management can be seen in the protected areas, for example, in peninsular Malaysia, when the endangered species Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) was recorded with a declining population (Ahmad Zafir et al., 2011), while Havmøller et al. (2015 suggested that this species was already extinct in the wild. The conservation condition worsens when there are other limitations faced by the management of the protected area, such as (a) resource constraints (e.g., budget and manpower), (b) governance confusion (e.g., conflict of authority and objectives of conservation in government and other agencies), (c) community welfare issues, and (d) institutional and capacity building (e.g., skills, knowledge, and conservation approaches) (Hockings, 2003;Kolahi et al., 2013;Leverington et al., 2010b). ...
... Firstly, the assay was limited to identify three of the five rhino species (black rhino, white rhino and Indian rhino). However, it is highly unlikely that Javan rhino or Sumatran rhino horns will be encountered in the rhino horn market as there are fewer than 100 and 300 individuals left respectively [16,17]. Additionally, both of these species could be tested via a sequence based method, hence false negatives or misidentification as fraudulent horn product will be avoided (as in Fig 3). ...
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Allee effects are broadly defined as a decline in individual fitness at low population size or density, that can result in critical population thresholds below which populations crash to extinction. As such, they are very relevant to many conservation programmes, where scientists and managers are often working with populations that have been reduced to low densities or small numbers. There are a variety of mechanisms that can create Allee effects, including mating systems, predation, environmental modification, and social interactions among others. The abrupt and unpredicted collapses of many exploited populations is just one illustration of the need to bring Allee effects to the forefront of conservation and management strategies. This book provides an overview of the topic, collating and integrating a widely dispersed literature from various fields: marine and terrestrial, plant and animal, theoretical and empirical, academic and applied. © F. Courchamp, L. Berec, and J. Gascoigne 2008. All rights reserved.
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The Sumatran rhinoceros has been declining in numbers for more than a century, primarily due to bunting and to loss of its habitat as land is converted to other uses. Only in the last quarter century has the international community made concerted efforts to reverse this decline. However, government officials, international funding agencies, and conservation organizations, while paying lip service to the need for strong action, have often taken the path of least resistance in helping this species. Much of the money and effort put toward Sumatran rhino conservation has focused on new technologies or politically expedient strategies that have little to do with the real reasons behind the rhino’s decline. The primary means of Sumatran rhino conservation in Indonesia and Malaysia, where viable populations might still exist, is still the capture and attempted breeding of this species-which, until now, has failed. I examined the history of the Sumatran rhino in Borneo and the recent situation in Sabah, where at least two important populations of this species might still survive. Sabah is presented as a case study that is indicative of the plight of the Sumatran rhino throughout its present range.