America's Last Sumatran Rhino Is Relocating to Find a Mate

Cincinnati Zoo Blog
Cincinnati Zoo Blog / Cincinnati Zoo Blog

Harapan, America’s most eligible Sumatran rhino bachelor, is relocating to Indonesia in search of a mate. As the last of his species to survive in the U.S., his love life has been of great interest to conservationists. A few years ago, the Cincinnati Zoo where Harapan was born and raised announced they would be making an effort to breed him with his sister Suci. This was the zoo’s final attempt to prolong their 25-year-old Sumatran rhino breeding program, which had been slowly dying along with the species' dwindling population. But in March 2014, Suci succumbed to Iron Storage Disease without producing any offspring. Harapan, one of just a hundred or so Sumatran rhinos alive today, suddenly became the last of his kind in the western hemisphere. 

At one point in history, the Sumatran rhino population was widespread throughout southeastern Asia. By the early 1980s they had diminished to just a few hundred animals scattered across Malaysia and a few Indonesian islands. A handful of rhinos were brought into captivity as a safeguard against extinction, but sadly, several perished from injury and disease. 

Those who did survive in captivity presented a whole new set of challenges when in came to breeding. It turns out Sumatran rhinos are maddeningly complicated when it comes to sex, which may be contributing to their dire situation in the wild. If a female isn’t getting pregnant on a regular basis, this could lead to issues such as uterine cysts, which can cause infertility. And to further add to this vicious cycle, females will only ovulate if they sense a male is nearby.

It was only after the team at the Cincinnati Zoo made these discoveries that they were able to successfully breed three rhino calves—one of which was Harapan, which means “hope” in Indonesian.

Harapan’s other sibling, Andalas, has since been sent to a breeding facility in Indonesia where he’s successfully fathered one calf. In light of the recent discovery that Sumatran rhinos are now extinct in the wild in Malaysia, eight-year-old Harapan will follow his brother’s path in an effort to rescue the species. 

The breeding facility where he’ll make his new home is located in Way Kambas National Park on the island of Sumatra. Due to all the conservation laws surrounding the species, several permits are required from both the U.S. and Indonesian governments before he can be shipped away. Once he arrives, conservationists are hoping he’ll hit it off with a female named Rosa who has been living in the park since the early 2000s. Terri Roth, the vice president for conservation and science at the Cincinnatti Zoo, has faith in Harapan's charming abilities. According to Roth, “He’s a really fun rhino. He seems like a little bit of a pistol, quite frankly."

[h/t: National Geographic]