This is the first time in 40 years we’ve had a physical encounter with the animal in the wild.
The Sumatran rhino, the smallest of living rhinoceroses, is critically endangered. One of three Asian rhino types, it’s known for its two horns and dark, bristly hair. It was at one point quite numerous in Asia, but the population is now estimated at only about 100 animals, most likely because of illegal poaching, which can fetch $30,000 per horn. But World Wildlife Fund U.K. researchers announced a small victory this week with the first live sighting of a Sumatran rhino in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, and a region where the animal was previously thought extinct.
“The captured female rhino is being held in a temporary enclosure before being translocated by helicopter to a new home—a protected forest about 150 kilometers from the capture site,” the WWF announced. “The rhino’s new home is envisioned as the second Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia.”
“This is the first physical contact with the species in the area for over 40 years and is a major milestone for rhino conservation in Indonesia,” reads the WWF statement. “The female Sumatran rhino, which is estimated to be between four and five years old, was safely captured in a pit trap in Kutai Barat in East Kalimantan on 12 March.”
The WWF’s work in safely securing and protecting the Sumatran rhino dates back to 2013, when a survey team found the first evidence that the species was not extinct in Kalimantan. The team identified the rhino’s footprints, then captured an image of the species on a camera trap set up in the same forest. Since that initial discovery, a total of 15 Sumatran rhinos have been identified in three populations in Kutai Barat, a regency in the province of Kalimantan.
While poaching has heavily impacted the Sumatran rhino’s numbers, the WWF said that the species is also facing habitat loss from mining, plantations, and logging. And last year the population in the Malaysian part of Borneo was declared extinct, which underscores the importance of safely capturing the female Sumatran rhino and relocating her to a sanctuary.
“This is an exciting discovery and a major conservation success,” said Pak Efransjah, CEO of WWF-Indonesia. “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 WWF’s effort to capture and relocate the rhino came about through collaboration with the Sumatran Rhino Conservation Team established by the Indonesia Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
“This outstanding discovery is a beacon of hope during a vital time for the conservation of rhinos worldwide, with many iconic species facing grave threats due to poaching, habitat loss and the effects of climate change,” Glyn Davies, WWF-U.K.’s executive director of global programs, commented.
“This encouraging news is a reminder of the importance of safeguarding of wildlife and the need for governments, NGO’s and communities to increase efforts in restoring population numbers of these critically endangered species,” Davies said.