The Sumatran rhinoceros in the smallest and hairiest of the five rhino species. It is believed to be possibly related to the extinct woolly rhinoceros, having been around for around for 20 million years. A mature Sumatran rhino typically stands about 100 to 150 centimeters (50 to 75 inches) at the shoulder, with a body length of 240 to 315 centimeters (94 to 124 inches) and weighs around 600 to 950 kilograms (1,320 to 2,095 pounds). Like the African species, it has two horns; the larger is the front (25 to 79 centimeters), with the smaller usually less than 10 centimeters long. The males have much larger horns than the females.

Hair can range from dense (the densest hair in young calves) to scarce. The color of these rhinos is reddish brown. They have relatively few skin wrinkles except around the neck. Their body is short and has stubby legs. They also have a prehensile lip. Under ceratin conditions it will grow a thick coat of hair like that of the long-extinct woolly rhino.

Little is known about the Sumatran rhino. It is rarely seen in the wild and likes dense forests. One scientist who spent three years studying them in northern Sumatra’s Gunung Leuser National Park — one of the areas they are said to be most plentiful — only saw one once when it charged through his camp unexpectedly. Most of what is known about them has been deduced from specimens kept in captivity.

The Sumatran rhinoceros lives in both lowland and highland tropical rain forests in peninsular Malaysia, coastal areas of Sumatra, particularly in the west and south, and dense forest in very high altitudes in Sabah, Malaysia in northeast Borneo. Roaming across a grazing territory of about 16 square kilometers, it spends much of its day in wallows and browses on twigs, leaves, fruits, saplings and tender fruit. The animal is used to the shade. Captive animals exposed to long periods in the sun developed eye problems. They are pretty picky about what they eat. They prefer fresh Ficus browse. If they don’t get that they often won’t eat.

The Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is found in small, fragmented populations on the islands of Sumatra (Indonesia) and Borneo (Malaysia), as well as a recently identified individual or group in Indonesian Borneo. Many of these found in Sumatra live near Mount Leuser, Way Kambas and Bukit Barisan Selatan.

Woolly Rhinos and the Sumatran Rhinoceros

Sumatran rhinoceros may have evolved from woolly rhinos. According to the International Rhino Foundation: “The Woolly Rhino (Coelodonta antiquitatis) first appeared some 350,000 years ago and may have survived until as recently as 10,000 years ago. Their fossils are fairly common and have been discovered throughout Europe and Asia. Well-preserved remains have been discovered frozen in ice and buried in oil-saturated soils. In Ukraine, a complete carcass of a female Woolly Rhino was discovered buried in the mud. The combination of oil and salt prevented the remains from decomposing, allowing the soft tissues to remain intact. [Source: International Rhino Foundation \=]

“A herbivore who grazed on grass, shrubby sprouts, forbs (small herbaceous plants), lichens and mosses. Woolly Rhinos had a broad front lip. The horns of Coelodonta antiquitatis fossils show abrasion marks that were presumably caused by to and fro motion of the head as it pushed the snow away while searching for grass. The Woolly Rhino lived just as their recent relatives do, alone or in very small family groups. Coelodonta antiquitatis were hunted by early humans and they were depicted on the walls of caves in France 30,000 years ago. The Sumatran rhino, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, is the last representative of the Woolly Rhino family. \=\

“Once common throughout Northern Europe and Eastern Asia (especially in what is now Russia). Coelodonta antiquitatis' range extended from South Korea to Scotland to Spain. In the latter part of the Pleistocene Period, the Woolly Rhino may have had the largest range of any known rhinoceros, living or extinct. The Woolly Rhinos frequently inhabited the same areas as Woolly Mammoths, however they apparently never managed to move across the Bering Strait (Bering Land Bridge) and extend their range into North America. \=\

Sumatran Rhino Sex

The female shows little sign of estrus and is believed to be an induced ovulator (the egg is only reduced after the make begins showing interest in her). This is unique among rhinos. If male and female arr together at the wrong time they will fight. At the right time he will follow the female around. The male with follow the female around for about 15 minutes with nose to tail. When she stops he mounts her and stays mounted for anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes. The gestation period is 475 days. Typically one calf is born and it stays with its mother for 18 months.

Paul Watson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “In the forest, a Sumatran male rhino goes looking for a female when he senses she is in heat, which occurs roughly every three weeks. Zoo rhinos often suffered serious injuries until experts figured out when it was safe to nudge them toward mating, Marcellus Adi Riyanto of the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary said. [Source: Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2007]

"If the timing is bad, they fight when they meet. They might even kill each other," said Riyanto, who has seen a female chomp a deep gash 8 inches long in a pushy male. "Even if the timing is right, they still have rituals. The female is always looking for a good male. She will persuade the male to fight. If the male is strong enough, he will chase her." And only then does she give in to his advances.

Rare Sumatran Rhino in Thought to Be Pregnant

In April 2010, AP reported: “Malaysian conservationists caught on film a Sumatran rhinoceros thought to be pregnant, raising hopes that the critically endangered species on Borneo island was breeding in the wild, Raymond Alfred of the World Wildlife Fund said. A remotely controlled camera set up in a forest in Sabah state on Borneo captured a still picture of the rhino. It is the first such image in the wild of a female thought to be pregnant, providing cheer to conservationists after the initial failure of a breeding-in-captivity program for the Borneo Sumatran rhino, whose numbers are believed to have dwindled to less than 30. [Source: Associated Press, April 21, 2010]

"The size (of the rhino) is quite extraordinary," Alfred told The Associated Press. "Based on the shape and the size of the body and stomach," it would appear that the rhino is pregnant. But it is difficult to be conclusive on the basis of the picture alone, he said. Another 50 cameras have been set up in the area to gather more evidence about the female, which appears to be 20 years old, he said, adding that researchers were also trying to find its dung for analysis.

The picture shows the Borneo Sumatran rhino---a subspecies of the bristly, snub-nosed rhino native to Indonesia's Sumatra island---wallowing in the soil to cool off and protect her body.

The most important thing now is to ensure that this area is protected from logging activity," he said, declining to disclose the rhino's exact whereabouts.

Malaysia's Borneo Sumatran rhino population has declined from some 200 about a half-century ago as they are hunted for Chinese medicine and crowded out through deforestation and palm oil plantations. Conservationists have warned the rhinos could face extinction in the next 10 years. Alfred said conservationists have tried but so far failed to rescue isolated rhinos that have been cut off from the rest by deforestation and make them breed. Only one male rhino named Tam was rescued in the last two years. It was hoped Tam would mate with a female in captivity, but she turned out to be too old to reproduce, Alfred said.

Endangered Sumatran Rhinos

Sumatran rhino range

For decades, Sumatran rhinos were decimated by widespread deforestation and poaching for their horns. Today, the species is further imperiled by hanging-on in tiny, disconnected populations in shrinking forest fragments. Some of the rhinos now protected in the sanctuaries lived alone in tiny forests unable to reach others of their kind. Past efforts to protect the Sumatran Rhinoceros — including a disastrous captive breeding program — largely failed.

The species numbers have fallen by up to 90 percent since the mid-1980s "The Sumatran rhino is on the very brink of extinction. The number of remaining individuals is unknown, and as they become rarer, the more difficult is it to count them," John Payne a conservation scientist with the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) in Sabah, Malaysia told Conservationists fear that given current trends, the Sumatran rhino doesn't have another 30 years without urgent action.

While habitat loss and poaching have historically been the biggest threats to the species, today the largest challenge for wild Sumatran rhinos may be in finding a mate since population densities are so low. Long-decimated by deforestation and poaching, populations of Sumatran rhinos today have become so small and fragmented that it's difficult for them to breed successfully. In some cases, single rhinos have been found surviving alone in a small forest fragment.

The Sumatran rhinoceros is among the rarest of large mammals and is regarded by some as the most threatened rhinoceros species. There are believed to be between 200 and 300 of them left, down from maybe 500 in the 1980s. They live in Sumatra, Borneo and the Malay peninsula. Many have by killed for their horns by poachers. Their habitat has shrunk dramatically in just the past 20 years. In Aceh Province of Sumatra they have been caught in the middle of a guerilla war. Many of those that have been captured or studied have evidence of encounters with poachers such as snare wounds or scars. One captured animal was found with a bullet in its lung that was calculated to have been there for about 15 years before its capture.

Paul Watson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Armed anti-poaching teams guard the animals in the rain forest, but patrols are expensive and difficult in rough terrain. It costs $2,000 a year to protect a single Sumatran rhino in the forest, said Nico van Strien, Southeast Asia field program coordinator for the International Rhino Foundation. [Source: Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2007]

In November 2005, AP reported: “The last five endangered Sumatran rhinos living in a southern Malaysian forest reserve park are believed to have been killed by poachers, a conservationist said. Vincent Chow, an adviser to the Malaysian Nature Society, said indigenous people who live on the fringes of the Endau Rompin National Park in Johor state and regularly roam the area have failed to find any sign of the animals. [Source: Pauline Jasudason, AP, November 29 2005]

“If they are indeed dead, it could be a fatal blow to the dwindling population of the Sumatran Rhinoceros in Malaysia. Besides Johor, another 80 to 100 rhinos are believed to exist in the wild in other national parks in the country, according to official estimates. Conservationists say the number might be smaller.

“Chow blamed poachers who hunt the rhino for its horn and other body parts. "The national park is very porous and just too big to patrol, it's in excess of 48 000 hectares of rugged terrain," he said. "Poachers have been known to go in by helicopters to escape detection." Chow urged Malaysian wildlife authorities and park officials to be more aggressive in protecting threatened species "before there is nothing left to protect."

Illegal Coffee Growers Threaten Sumatran Rhinos

The Sumatran rhino is also threatened by Southeast Asia’s booming coffee exports, Nick Meo wrote in the Times: “Conservationists estimate that about 20 percent of the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra has been hacked down for illicit plantations. If the destruction continues unchecked in the 340,000-hectare (840,000-acre) park, some of Asia’s last surviving tigers and the critically endangered hairy rhino, as well as elephants, could vanish within a decade because of the world’s craving for caffeine. [Source: Nick Meo, Times of London, January 17, 2007]

Gone in an Instant, a report published today by WWF, blames international coffee companies for buying illicit coffee — often unknowingly — from middlemen who abuse a lack of regulations to mix beans from the 20,000 tonnes grown illegally inside the park with legitimate crops from elsewhere in Lampung province. The low-grade robusta beans grown in the area are used to make instant and packet coffee and energy drinks by some of the biggest names in the business, including Kraft Foods, Nestlé and ED&F Man. Nestlé was one of the companies praised by researchers for trying to find ways of keeping illegal beans out of their coffee products. Others have pledged to take action to deal with the problem after researchers contacted them. Some who were approached, including London-based ED&F Man, denied purchasing any illicit beans, WWF said.

Researchers used satellite imaging, interviews with coffee farmers and traders and monitoring of trade routes to track the progress of illicit coffee from cleared jungle to the breakfast table in Britain, Germany or America. Nazir Foead, the WWF director of policy, said: “WWF doesn’t want to shut down the coffee industry in Lampung province but we’re asking multinational coffee companies to implement rigorous controls to ensure that they are no longer buying illegally grown coffee.”

Coffee plantation

At stake is the survival of some of Asia’s rarest and most spectacular mammals, including three subspecies found nowhere else in the world. The park is home to around 40 Sumatran tigers — about 10 per cent of the animals left in the wild — and about 80 Sumatran rhinos, also known as hairy rhinos, which are found in only three other parks on the island. A quarter of the wild population of 2,000 Sumatran elephants are also thought to be within the park, which is also rich in plant life.

Indonesia is now the fourth-biggest coffee producer in the world after Brazil, Colombia and Vietnam, and half of its production is in Lampung province. The coffee rush has brought settlers from crowded Java or elsewhere in Sumatra, and about 15,000 families taken over plots of land where they grow ginger, cinnamon, rubber and coffee. WWF estimates that more than 40,000 hectares have been cut down for coffee plantations inside the protected area. Government officials and overstretched park staff have done little to stop them, and most of the farmers make little more than a subsistence living, although selling coffee has given many of them earnings for the first time in their lives.

One coffee farmer, Suratno, moved from Java in 1984 with his family and admits to growing one and a half hectares of coffee inside the forest. He said: “I don’t feel guilty about growing in the wilderness. There is still plenty of forest in there. But I wouldn’t want to see it all destroyed. Then there could be floods and erosion.” Jonathan Atwood from Kraft, makers of Maxwell House and Kenco, said: “There is a very complex supply chain and traceability is very difficult. We are trying to formulate an action plan with WWF, farmers and the Indonesian Government.”

Sumatran Rhino Population Plunges to 100 Animals—And Efforts to Save It

Jeremy Hance of wrote: “Less than 100 Sumatran rhinos survive in the world today, according to a bleak new population estimate by experts. The last survey in 2008 estimated that around 250 Sumatran rhinos survived, but that estimate now appears optimistic and has been slashed by 60 percent. However conservationists are responding with a major new agreement between the Indonesian and Malaysian governments at a recent summit by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC). [Source: Jeremy Hance,, April 8, 2013]

"Serious steps must be taken to roll back the tide of extinction of the Sumatran rhino," Widodo Ramono, Executive Director of Yayasan Badak Indonesia (YABI), said in a statement. "This could be our last opportunity to save this species and, by working together as a collaborative unit, internationally and regionally, with an agreed vision and goals, a glimmer of hope has been clearly demonstrated."

Not all Sumatran rhino news has been bleak lately: last year the first Sumatran rhino calf was born at a semi-wild sanctuary in Indonesia. It was only the fourth time in a century that captive Sumatran rhinos have given birth. A similar sanctuary, with large pens in natural forest, has also been establish in the state of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. These two sanctuaries are increasingly being seen as "insurance policies" against total extinction. Currently the two sanctuaries house eight rhinos between them.

Possible plans include moving individual rhinos between Sumatra and Borneo, sharing reproductive cells, and using the most advanced reproductive technology available. "We need to act together urgently, hand in hand, replicating some of the inspirational successes of other conservation efforts and aim to stop any failures that might impede progress," Ramono said.

Summit Held to Protect the Sumatran Rhino

Over 130 government officials, scientists, and NGO representatives met for a week long summit in April 2013 at the Singapore Zoo on ways to proceed with conserving the Sumatran rhino. The summit was notable for gathering experts from both Indonesia and Malaysia to compare notes on the Critically Endangered species and for the production of a two year emergency action plan. According to a press release, the summit also looked at past success stories of bringing nearly extinct animals back from the brink, including the white rhinoceros, California condor, and black-footed ferret.

Mark Stanley Price, Chairman of the IUCN SSC Species Conservation Planning Sub-Committee called the summit "transformational" for pledges between the governments to work together to save the animal. As well, he noted that "huge progress has been made in specifying the resources needed to improve rhino surveys, security and monitoring. We have also explored the potential of new technologies and the role of integrating the management of wild and captive individuals."

Organizers and participants in the event included the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA, Malaysia), Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP, Malaysia), Fauna and Flora International (FFI Indonesia), Rhino Foundation of Indonesia (YABI), Indonesian Zoo and Aquarium Association (PKBSI), International Rhino Foundation (IRF), Leuser International Foundation (LIF, Indonesia), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS Indonesia), Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Taman Safari Indonesia (TSI), WWF and SOS Rhino US. Sime Darby Foundation, WWF, IUCN, IRF and TSI are providing funds and support for the event.

At the Singapore summit, Indonesian and Malaysian authorities pledged to work together more closely on species survival efforts. Conservationists say special rhino protection patrols have thwarted poachers. "There's no human-rhino conflict," Roth said. "Are we going to put enough value in wildlife to share the earth with this ancient, peaceful, noninvasive species? If we let the Sumatran rhino die, what are we going to save?"

While the Sumatran rhino isn't a particularly popular or even recognizable animal to the public at large, Roth said, the species contributes to the global need for healthy forests with its role in the ecosystem clearing small saplings and brush, and helping spread seeds and make trails smaller animals use. Also, the rhinos don't threaten humans nor damage their crops.

First Evidence of the Sumatran rhino in Kalimantan in 20 years

In April 2013, Jeremy Hance of wrote: “Conservationists working to save the Sumatran rhinoheard good news this week as WWF-Indonesia has found evidence of at least one Sumatran rhino persisting in the Indonesian state of Kalimantan, located on the island of Borneo. Small populations of Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) survive on Sumatra and on Borneo (in the Malaysian state of Sabah), but this is the first time scientists have confirmed the presence of the notoriously shy animal in Kalimantan in over two decades. [Source: Jeremy Hance,, April 2, 2013]

"This is a very important finding to the world, and especially to Indonesia's conservation work, as this serves as a new record on the presence of Sumatran rhinos in East Kalimantan and especially in West Kutai," Bambang Noviyanto, the director for biodiversity conservation at the Forestry Ministry, said. Currently scientists estimate that there are around 200-275 Sumatran rhinos surviving in the wild.

Although WWF-Indonesia teams have not seen a rhino in Kalimantan yet, they have recently discovered footprints, mud wallows, tree markings, and signs of rhino-feeding. There is no information yet on whether this is just one rhino or a group of survivors. "The fact that this discovery comes more than a decade after the last evidence of the species in Kalimantan, despite the opening up of previously remote areas during that period, suggests that this might be just one or a small number of individuals," explains Payne. "If so, they might not have been breeding. There may be inbreeding, or a skewed sex ratio, or simply old or otherwise infertile rhinos."

Payne's organization, Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), is working to breed Sumatran rhinos in large semi-wild enclosures in Sabah. Currently, BORA has two rhinos, a male (Tam) and a female (Puntung). Tam was captured after he wandered into a palm oil plantation with an injured foot, while Puntung was taken from the wild when it was realized she was alone in a forest fragment with no chance of meeting a male for breeding. Payne and a group of scientists are now trying to breed the pair. A similar breeding program on Sumatra last year saw the birth of the first Sumatran rhino calf in captivity since 2001 and only the fourth in the last hundred years. However, more rhinos are likely needed if the breeding programs in Sumatran and Sabah are to be successful in the long-term.

For now, WWF-Indonesia conservationists are working to determine just how many rhinos might persist in East Kalimantan and work with local communities to protect the area. "Rhinos, dolphins, clouded leopards and local buffalo are among God's creations that are getting rare, but apparently they're still alive in West Kutai," Ismael Thomas SH. M.Si, the head of the West Kutai district, said. "We must protect them, and the communities must live in harmony with nature."

Experts Say Rhino Populations in Sumatra and Borneo Should Be Combined

In May 2013, reported:“A new study argues for treating endangered Sumatran rhino populations in Borneo and Sumatra as "a single conservation unit", lending academic support to a controversial proposal to move wild rhinos from Malaysia to Indonesia.The paper, authored by an international team of rhino experts and published in the journal Oryx, says that genetic differences between the island populations are minimal. Given the dire straights of the species — the wild population is estimated at less than 100 individuals — the researchers argue that ensuring the Sumatran rhino's survival takes precedence over preserving what little genetic diversity remains between populations. [Source:, May 15, 2013]

"In our paper, we discuss the pros and cons of considering the populations of Sumatran rhinoceros from Sumatra and Borneo as a single management unit," said study lead author Benoit Goossens, Director of the Danau Girang Field Centre in Malaysia, in a statement. "For a species such as the Sumatran rhinoceros, where time is of the essence in preventing extinction, we must ask to what extent should genetic and geographical distances be taken into account in deciding the most urgently needed conservation interventions."

"Genetic differences are minimal and we strongly believe that the observed differences do not justify keeping the Sumatran and Bornean populations as separate management units."Goossens pointed to the situation with the Javan rhino as an example of the pitfalls of prioritizing genetic diversity over conservation for a species that is so close to extinction.

"Despite clear results demonstrating that the Ujung Kulon (Indonesia) and Cat Tien (Vietnam) populations represented separate evolutionary significant units it was argued that demographic considerations should override genetic issues in the short term. The Indonesian and Vietnamese governments were urged to exchange Javan rhinoceroses before it was too late. No action was taken and, in Cat Tien National Park, the last individual in Vietnam was found dead in April 2010," Goossens said. "We certainly do not want the same thing to happen to the Sumatran rhinoceros and we therefore strongly recommend to act now and exchange gametes such as semen and ovocytes (and possibly individuals) between the captive populations of Sumatran rhinoceros in Sabah (Tabin), Sumatra (Way Kambas) and Cincinnati Zoo, when it is still possible."

While habitat loss and poaching have historically been the biggest threats to the species, today the largest challenge for wild Sumatran rhinos may be in finding a mate since population densities are so low. Therefore some conservationists believe aggregating rhinos in reserves that are strictly protected may be the best hope for the species. Efforts to facilitate breeding might also be necessary to accelerate the rhino's recovery, according to some experts.

“With a species so close to the edge, extinction is guaranteed without two essential elements of human effort. One is to have full and open collaboration between the relevant governments, so that decisions are made on the basis of best scientific advice rather than on nationalism or pride. I think such an intent was achieved at the Summit," said study co-author John Payne, executive director of the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), which conceptualized and organized the summit with a dozen other groups involved in rhino conservation. “The other is that all possible advanced reproductive technologies are used to boost rhino births, and that we do not just rely on natural breeding, which will be too slow to halt the trajectory towards zero rhinos.”

Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, said that Malaysia is already considering transferring a young captive male rhino to the United States to breed with a female at the Cincinnati Zoo. "We understand the need to exchange gametes between countries, Malaysia and Indonesia. Actions to initiate genome resource banking and artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization are underway in Sabah and elsewhere," he said in a statement. "We are seriously considering sending Tam, our captive male rhinoceros, to Cincinnati Zoo in the US to breed with their mature female. By doing so, we will make an historical step towards the survival of one of the most charismatic, ancient and enigmatic large mammals; a species that Sabah is not prepared to see extinct!"

Malaysia May Loan Indonesia Rhinos to Save Species from Extinction

In May 2013, reported: Conservationists and officials agreed to a radical plan to loan Sumatran rhinos between nations if it means saving the critically endangered species from extinction. The proposal, which could still be thwarted by red tape and political opposition, could lead Malaysia to send some of its Sumatran rhinos to semi-captive breeding facilities in Indonesia. "I will bring to my government for approval whatever I and other Sumatran rhino experts feel are the best recommendations for specific actions. If that involves a recommendation to loan rhinos between nations, so be it. This is our very last chance to save the species, and we must get it right this time," said Laurentius Ambu, Sabah Wildlife Department, in a statement issued after the conclusion of the conference. “While doing that, we are at the same time maximising our efforts via parallel initiatives by collaborating with overseas reproductive experts on different options available to us since time is not with us." “Indonesia will collaborate with Malaysia to achieve this goal,” added Novianto Bambang Wawandono, Director for Biodiversity Conservation in the Directorate-General for Forest Protection and Nature Conservation of Indonesia. [Source:, April 30, 2013]

Some conservationists believe aggregating rhinos in reserves that are strictly protected may be the best hope for the species. Efforts to facilitate breeding might also be necessary to accelerate the rhino's recovery, according to some experts. “With a species so close to the edge, extinction is guaranteed without two essential elements of human effort. One is to have full and open collaboration between the relevant governments, so that decisions are made on the basis of best scientific advice rather than on nationalism or pride. I think such an intent was achieved at the Summit," said John Payne, executive director of the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), which conceptualized and organized the summit with a dozen other groups involved in rhino conservation. “The other is that all possible advanced reproductive technologies are used to boost rhino births, and that we do not just rely on natural breeding, which will be too slow to halt the trajectory towards zero rhinos.”

Payne added that zoos could play an important role in the process, especially under a scenario where "Sumatran rhino embryos [are] implanted into surrogate mother rhinos of other species in zoos" rather than an approach that removes rhinos completely from the wild. A three-decade effort to increase Sumatran rhino populations by taking them from the wild and establishing captive populations in zoos has underperformed, yielding only a handful of offspring. “Here we have a species creeping into extinction before our eyes. Commitments were made this time that we cannot leave this magnificent animal to exhaust its struggle for existence at the behest of time," said BORA chairman Abdul Hamid Ahmad. "We need speedy action, and we want to see this happening now."

Breeding Sumatran Rhinos

newborn Sumatran rhino

Efforts to breed Sumatran rhinos in captivity has largely been unsuccessful. Finally in July 2001, a healthy Sumatran rhino named Andalas was born at the Cincinnati zoo. It was the first in more than a century. The previous one was in Calcutta in 1889.

The first coordinated effort at captive breeding began in the 1980s, and about half the initial 40 breeding rhinos died without a successful pregnancy. Terri Roth, who heads the Cincinnati zoo's Center for Research of Endangered Wildlife and began working on the rhino project in 1996, told Associated Press it took years just to understand their eating habits and needs and decades more to understand their mating patterns. The animals tend not to be interested in companionship, let alone romance. "They're definitely difficult to breed because they're so solitary," Roth said. "You can't just house them together. So the only time you can get a successful breeding is if you just put them together when the female is going to be receptive."

Paul Watson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Eighteen Sumatran rhinos rounded up and moved from their forest habitat in the mid-1980s and early 1990s in an effort to save the species from extinction. One of the rhinos died as he was being trapped, and the other 17 were dispersed to zoos in the United States, Britain, Indonesia and Malaysia. Experts thought the rhinos would happily breed in captivity. Instead, they quickly began to die. Several slowly starved to death because they couldn't stomach the hay or other zoo food, and others succumbed to digestive problems and disease. As of 2007 only four of the captured animals were alive -- two in the Sumatran sanctuary and two in the Cincinnati Zoo, which was expecting its third calf to be born in 2007. [Source: Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2007]

“It was a small miracle that Andalas' father, Ipuh, survived long enough in his cramped Cincinnati enclosure to become a proud papa. "Everybody in the zoo community thought they would adapt to hay and grain the way the black and white rhinos from Africa and the Indian rhinos did," zookeeper Steve Romo said by phone from Los Angeles. "That turned out not to be the case. When I was in Cincinnati, our first female basically starved to death. She wasted away to nothing.

Ipuh was supposed to be conditioned to eat hay before arriving in Cincinnati in 1991, but he wasn't interested in the meals served. "Over a six-month period, this animal had lost 260 pounds," Romo recalled. "You could see his shoulder blades, backbone and ribs, his pelvic bones." When all seemed lost, the zookeeper had a eureka moment.

"Ipuh, basically, was probably 24 hours away from death," Romo said. "The zoo director told me, 'Anything you want to do, we'll try.' I phoned San Diego and had some ficus shipped in. It was probably too late, and the vets didn't even want me to try it." Five boxes of ficus leaves arrived express from the coast. When Romo was 75 feet away from Ipuh with a fistful of fresh leaves, "He put his head up. He could smell it. He got up and walked to the next stall and he began eating. Basically, the agreement was that San Diego was going to send ficus until he died. But he didn't die."

Within 13 months, Ipuh was ready for his first try at mating. He was paired up with a young female named Emi, whose mother had been killed by poachers in Indonesia. She was transferred from the L.A. Zoo to Cincinnati in 1995 for breeding, and she gave birth to Andalas six years later. He weighed in at 76.2 pounds, with long black hair and a sly look. A year later, Romo and the calf moved to Los Angeles, where ficus trees growing on city land provided steady food. To make sure Andalas had enough of the ficus leaves he liked most, zoo staff scouted out the different types of trees on private property and asked homeowners whether they would like to help feed the Sumatran rhinos. "Some people were happy for us to come out and cut ficus," Romo said. "Others never called."

Breeding Sumatran Rhinos in Malaysia and Indonesia

In 2003, disease killed off seven Sumatran rhinos in a 16-year-old captive breeding program in central Malaysia, shutting down one of the few efforts to save the species from extinction. An effort to breed rhinos in captivity at the Sungai Dusun Sumatran Rhino Conservation Centre in Hulu Selangor north of Kuala Lumpur was a disaster. Five of them died. Two rhinos died in November 2002 of bleeding in the their lungs and intestines caused by lesions caused by a bacterial infection.

The Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary opened in 1995 in Way Kambas National Park, Indonesia near the city of Bandar Lampung. Supported by donations, mainly from the United States, it is run by the International Rhino Foundation, which years has worked to protect wild rhinos in Asia and Africa and to boost populations with captive breeding. As of the late 2000s no offspring had been produced and donor fatigue was setting in. Efforts to breed Sumatran rhinos in zoos have largely failed,

Sumatran Rhino Born in Sumatra

In June 2012, the BBC reported, “A Sumatran rhinoceros “one of the world's most endangered species — has given birth at a sanctuary in Indonesia. Conservationists at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park said the mother, Ratu, and her male calf were both "very well". It is only the fourth recorded case of a Sumatran rhino being born in captivity in a century. [Source: BBC, June 23, 2012]

“A spokesman for Indonesia's forest ministry, Masyhud, told the AFP news agency that Ratu's labour had gone "smoothly and naturally". "It's really a big present for the Sumatran rhino breeding efforts as we know that this is a very rare species which have some difficulties in their reproduction," he added."This is the first birth of a Sumatran rhino at a sanctuary in Indonesia." It was Ratu's third pregnancy. The previous two ended in miscarriages.

“The father of the baby rhino, Andalas, was born at Cincinnati Zoo in the US in 2001 — the first Sumatran rhino to be delivered in captivity in 112 years. He was brought to Indonesia in 2007 to mate with Ratu, who was born in the wild but wandered out of a forest and was taken in by the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. Afterwards, the US-based International Rhino Foundation said that a veterinary team would harvest Ratu's placental cells, which could be used to generate stem cells. Stem cells had the potential to be useful for many purposes in the near future, including curing diseases and helping promote reproduction, it said.

Effort to Get Captive Sumatran Rhino to Breed

On the effort to get Andalas to breed, Paul Watson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Promoting the sex life of a stud Sumatran rhino from Los Angeles is an intricate affair involving mud, massages and frequent foot rubs. His species may be heading for extinction, but a male still has needs. So Andalas, who flew here from the Los Angeles Zoo, in February 2007, is getting the pampered treatment from his Indonesian keepers. They hand-feed him his favorite ficus leaves, play hide-and-seek with him in the rain forest, gently nuzzle him nose to horn, and massage his cracked feet along with the soft spots of his ample butt. [Source: Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2007]

“Moving Andalas to Indonesia is a gamble that has to pay off. "This is a second chance and probably also the last chance, to be honest," Van Strien said from Doorn, in the Netherlands. "If this does not work, I think it's going to be extremely difficult to convince the donors to keep on providing funds for the sanctuary."

Sumatran rhinos also need long, regular wallows in gooey mud unsullied by their own waste to feel good, a pleasure they don't often get at zoos, Riyanto said. Most of those locked up for captive breeding live close to each other, "separated only by bars." "And they don't like it," he said. "They don't like to see each other. They get bored. They don't even have any desire to reproduce, no sex drive."

To be in shape to mate, a male rhino also needs satisfying meals, something more to his taste than bales of zoo hay. Even with the right diet, young males often need a keeper's guiding hand to get their groove on. The odds of a successful union improve if the female doesn't inflict serious wounds with her long, razor-sharp canines, Riyanto said.

Andalas had a rough journey to Indonesia. "He was so tired and frustrated when he arrived after 62 hours in a cage -- 50 hours in flight and 12 hours in a truck," Riyanto said. "We could see his ribs then. Now we cannot. And he had long blond hair at first. Now it's a bit darker."

Andalas lives with four other Sumatran rhinos -- three females and a male named Torgamba. The 250-acre sanctuary is in Indonesia's Way Kambas National Park, which itself is threatened by illegal loggers and hunters. The rhinos are surrounded by a 6,000-volt fence to keep them in and poachers out. The circular sanctuary is divided into fenced-off enclosures that meet in the center, like pieces of a pie. That's where breeding couples can mate in relative privacy.

Ratu was rescued in September 2005 after she wandered out of Way Kambas. Terrified villagers, who had never seen a rhino before, thought she was the dreaded Babi Ngepet, a mythical pig-man blamed for rapes and other villainy. The villagers wanted to kill her, but police arrived in time and called Riyanto. With sirens wailing and villagers shouting, Riyanto and his men pursued the rhino from dawn until midday. At one point, she was so exhausted she slipped, panting, into a sewage pit. Eventually coaxed into a truck, Ratu was delivered to the nearby sanctuary. Now she seems eager for a mate.


Andatu is only the fourth case of a Sumatran rhino being born in captivity in 100 years and the first in Asia in that time. Andatu was born on June 23, 2012. “Andatu” is a portmanteau of his parents’ names: Andalas, the father, who was born in the Cincinnati Zoo in USA in 2001 and has lived at the sanctuary since 2007; and Ratu, who was born and raised in Way Kambas. The process was not easy. Ratu had two miscarriages before delivering Andatu.

The calf — who topped the scales at 25 kilograms at birth —has been the focus of attention at the meeting of Asian and European specialists. In attendance were representatives of the major Asian nations with rhino populations: Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal. Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan was enthusiastic. “The birth of Andatu has opened the window of conservation for us all, because this is a very difficult undertaking due to the solitary nature of rhinos.” [Source: Indra Harsaputra, The Jakarta Post, October 22 2013]

Sumadi, the manager of the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) told the Jakarta Post in October 2013: “Andatu is in good health with a good appetite. Now he weighs 352 kilograms, almost the size of Ratu, his mother, who is over 500 kilograms,” Sumadi said.

On hand during Ratu’s delivery were Benn Bryan from Australia’s Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Scott Citino from the White Oak Conservation Center and Paul Reinhart from the Cincinnati Zoo in the US, Susie Ellis from the International Rhino Foundation and Bibhab K. Talukdar from the Asian Rhino Specialist Group of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “The birth of Andatu has inspired Indonesia to become a Sumatran rhino conservation center,” Widodo Ramono, Executive Director of Yayasan Badak Indonesia (YABI), said. “Experts have also agreed to undertake bull conservation at the same time through a semi-natural ex-situ breeding program.”

Cincinnati Zoo Tries to Mate Rhino Siblings to Save Species

In July 2013, Associated Press reported: “With the survival of a species on the line, Cincinnati Zoo scientists are hoping to mate their lone female Sumatran rhino with her little brother. The Cincinnati Zoo has been a pioneer in captive breeding of the rhino species, producing the first three born in captivity in modern times. Its conservationists this month brought back the youngest, 6-year-old Harapan, from the Los Angeles Zoo and soon will try to have him mate with the zoo's female -- his biological sister -- 8-year-old Suci. [Source: Associated Press. July 21, 2013]

"We absolutely need more calves for the population as a whole; we have to produce as many as we can as quickly as we can," said Terri Roth, who heads the zoo's Center for Research of Endangered Wildlife. "The population is in sharp decline and there's a lot of urgency around getting her pregnant."

Critics of captive breeding programs say they often do more harm than good and can create animals less likely to survive in the wild. Inbreeding increases the possibility of bad genetic combinations for offspring. "We don't like to do it, and long term, we really don't like to do it," Roth said, adding that the siblings' parents were genetically diverse, which is a positive for the plan. "When your species is almost gone, you just need animals and that matters more than genes right now -- these are two of the youngest, healthiest animals in the population."

The parents of the three rhinos born in Cincinnati have died, but their eldest offspring, 11-year-old Andalas, was moved to a sanctuary in Indonesia where he last year became a father after mating with a wild-born rhino there. Mating between such close rhino relatives might happen in the wild, Roth said, but it's difficult to know because the animals are so rare. If the offspring of such a mating then bred with an unrelated rhino, the genetic diversity would resume in the next generation, she said.

Harapan, who weighs about 1,650 pounds, will be kept separate from his sister, who is a little smaller. On a recent morning at the zoo here, he slathered himself in a mud hole, then ambled over to settle down in a pool of water. When the time is right to reintroduce the rhinos, the zoo team won't dim the lights or play mood music. Instead, they will use a system of gates to bring the pair together. If they begin to fight or show other behavior indicating things aren't going well, the team will try to separate them, using bananas for distraction. Before then, Roth and the other scientists will have measured Harapan's testosterone levels while using ultrasound and other monitoring to know when Suci is ovulating."You should use the science to guide you," Roth said. "We have really relied on the science."

If the breeding is successful, the zoo will be celebrating a fourth Sumatran rhino birth about 16 months later. If not, other efforts will continue. Indonesian conservationists have been trying to mate Andalas, the oldest brother, with two other females there after last year's success. His semen has also been banked, but there have been no reported successful artificial inseminations yet.

Way Kambas Sumatran Rhino Conservation Center

Indra Harsaputra wrote in The Jakarta Post, “In Way Kambas National Park in East Lampung, a conservation center has sprung up to save the Sumatran rhino. Occupying an area of 100 hectares of tropical forest in the 125,621 hectares of the national park, the sanctuary was established as part of the government’s Indonesian Rhino Conservation Strategy and Action Plan. [Source: Indra Harsaputra, The Jakarta Post, October 22 2013]

The five rhinos at the sanctuary — Andatu, Ratu, Andalas, Rosa and Bina — get daily checkups to ward off common ailments such as tuberculosis, hepatitis and salmonella. After a lunch of bananas, Ratu and Andatu walked out of their cage to spend their time outdoors in the 100-hectare sanctuary, which is surrounded by an electrified fences that spans 4 kilometers.

All-Indonesia Zoo Association secretary-general Tony Sumampau said that the sanctuary needed an additional stud rhino to meet a goal of a 3 percent population increase by 2020. “The male rhino and Rosa will be mated so as to produce a generation unrelated to Andatu,” Tony, who is also director of the Indonesian Safari Park, said. “It’s also necessary to protect the Sumatran rhinos previously discovered in East Kalimantan.”

Also on the agenda for the specialists at the meeting was the establishment of teams to set up rhino sperm banks, among other things. According to Tony, Kalimantan is also home to Sumatran rhinos, as per the research of Hermann Witkamp, a Dutch geologist. “Witkamp is recorded to have proposed the protection of a two-million-hectare zone as a roving rhino region, but after the big wildfire in 1982, everybody thought the rhinos were nowhere to be found.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2024

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