The Sumatran rhinoceros has lived throughout Southeast Asia for thousands of years. They are the smallest of all rhino species and the closest living relative of the woolly rhino from the Ice Age. Unfortunately, decades of poaching and habitat loss resulted in a staggering 50% decrease of the Sumatran rhinos’ population per decade from the early 90s with 600 to less than 200 rhinos in 2013.
In 2016, one Sumatran rhino was found in Kalimantan for the first time since the announcement of the species’ extinction in that region 40 years ago, bringing hope towards the start of a breeding population there. However, the Sumatran rhino was announced as extinct in Malaysia after the country’s last rhino, Iman, died of cancer in 2019. About 80 rhinos remain in 2020, and they are separated into ten fragmented sub-populations across two Indonesian islands. With few female Sumatran rhinos who give birth typically every three to five years, the species is struggling to breed their next generation. This rhino species is now so rare that camera traps are the primary source of documentation, as few people have ever seen one in the wild.
A group of conservation organizations which includes the National Geographic Society, International Rhino Foundation, and World Wide Fund for Nature began to support the Indonesian government national conservation breeding effort of the Sumatran rhino since 2018. They are currently working on building two new Sumatran rhino sanctuaries in Indonesia, and finding and relocating as many rhinos as possible to their conservation breeding facilities in the last hopes to ensure the survival of the species.