Rare Sumatran Rhinoceros Spotted in Indonesia for the First Time in 40 Years

Charles W. Hardin, Wikipedia//CC BY 2.0
Charles W. Hardin, Wikipedia//CC BY 2.0 / Charles W. Hardin, Wikipedia//CC BY 2.0

It’s been a good month for animal conservationists: On March 12, researchers finally made contact with a rare Sumatran rhino in Indonesian Borneo. According to The Guardian, more than 40 years had passed since experts last physically spotted one of these elusive—and nearly extinct—animals in the wild.

The WWF reports that a survey team used a wooden pit trap to capture the female Sumatran rhino—believed to be between 4 and 5 years old—in the forests of Kutai Barat, East Kalimantan. Until recently, researchers believed that the Sumatran rhino no longer existed in this region.

“This is an exciting discovery and a major conservation success,” Dr. Pak Efransjah, CEO of WWF-Indonesia, said in a 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.”

The Sumatran rhino is the smallest of the rhino species. It’s also the most endangered, National Geographic writes. The tiny hoofed mammals—which weigh about 1760 pounds and grow to a standing height of nearly 5 feet—have dwindled to the point of extinction thanks to poaching and habitat loss from mining, plantations, and logging. And since Sumatran rhinos are shy, solitary animals that only come together to breed, it’s difficult to find them in forests.

Once plentiful across southeast Asia, fewer than 100 wild Sumatran rhinos are now thought to remain in parts of Indonesia, including Kalimantan, Borneo, and the island of Sumatra. The species' fate is so tenuous that Harapan, the only male Sumatran rhino in the western hemisphere, was transported from the Cincinnati zoo to Sumatra in 2015 to help with breeding efforts. Recently, conservationists predicted that the Sumatran rhino would go extinct unless political leaders backed efforts to breed and protect the animal.

The newly captured female Sumatran rhino will be re-homed in a protected forest about 100 miles away from its capture site. Conservationists plan to transport more rhinos to the sanctuary and establish a breeding population.

In the meantime, researchers have also spotted an additional 15 Sumatran rhinos in Kalimantan through the use of camera traps. The Guardian reports that it’s too early to say whether these wild rhinos along with the captured ones are enough to form a viable breeding colony. However, the fate of the Sumatran rhino is already looking brighter, now that experts know the animal still exists in Kalimantan—and that there might be more.

[h/t The Guardian]