Saving the last groups of the wild Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus Sumatran) is the aim of a study that identifies, for the first time, priority forest protection areas and “irreplaceable to save the critically endangered species,” according to the authors. It is estimated that only 87-179 specimens are currently in existence in Indonesia.
The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus Sumatran) is a critically endangered animal whose population has been drastically reduced to only four areas in Indonesia.
Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (USA) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia Program have conducted a study in this island nation of the last wild population of the Sumatran rhinoceros. Details are published in the latest issue of the journal PLoS ONE.
The work provides, according to the authors, vital data to support a last attempt to prevent the extinction of the Sumatran rhinoceros. Wulan Pusparini, lead researcher of the study points out: “Sumatran rhinos can still be saved in their natural environment, but we must ensure areas of protection, which would require significant investments in law enforcement personnel.
The scientists recommend that wildlife conservation managers consolidate existing small populations with strong protections for the animals, as well as determine the percentage of breeding females remaining and recognize the cost of “doing nothing.
The research has identified the small, scattered populations that currently exist and must be consolidated to be viable. Bambang Dahono Adji, Director of Biodiversity Conservation at the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Chairman of the Indonesian Rhino Conservation Secretariat says, “We welcome these important new findings that support Indonesia’s efforts to fully implement the Sumatran Rhino Action Plan.
Five intensive protection areas
Using data on rhino signs and their probabilities of occupying the places where these animals al predicted that rhinos only occupy 13% of the area studied.
Five specific areas were identified as critical to saving these critically endangered rhinos, but this is only an overall estimate of their occupation to reduce the risk of poaching.
“With so many unknowns about how to manage rhinos in Sumatra, in the wild or in captivity, our study shows which places we must protect from the beginning,” adds Pusparini.
Overall, the scientists recommend that Indonesia formally establish five “intensive protection zones”, identified in this study, to eliminate poaching. The researchers also urge that all the small surviving populations and scattered individuals of healthy rhinos should be consolidated.
Finally, they urge governments to recognize that it is likely “that the Sumatran rhino will become extinct if no action is taken, as was the case with the last Java rhino in Vietnam in 2010.
A species devastated by Chinese medicine
The Sumatran rhinoceros were first discovered in 1814, they have been drastically reduced in Southeast Asia, where it only lives in three areas on the island of Sumatra and one in Kalimantan (Indonesia).
“The evaluation of the population and spatial distribution of this species is difficult due to its elusive nature and extremely low number of specimens,” the researchers point out.
From 600 animals in 1985, less than 100 have been reached in 2013. Current estimates place the number between 87 and 179, with subpopulations of 2 to 50 rhinos. The demand for rhino horns in traditional Chinese medicine has reduced their numbers and there are currently no viable populations outside Sumatra.
This study “provides urgent information on where the remaining rhinos are distributed,” says Joe Walston, vice president of WCS. “For the first time, we have a clear idea of where this rhino has priority, and we have the tools and techniques to protect them. Now we need to ensure a concerted effort by all agencies to free the Sumatran rhino from being on the verge of extinction.