Mistakes of the past have cost us many rhinos. Now’s the time to learn from the errors.
Between 1984 and 1995, a total of 22 Sumatran rhinos were captured in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah for a captive breeding project. Except for one which was already pregnant when captured, none bred while in captivity, and all have since died.
Today, there are three captive rhinos in Sabah, taken from the wild in recent years – a male in 2008 and two females in 2011 and in 2014. They are our last hope to breed the critically endangered species in a final bid to boost their numbers.
In the wild, exact numbers are unknown, but rhino experts say the species is most likely extinct in Peninsular Malaysia and on the verge of extinction in Sabah, which has fewer than 10. In short, the Sumatran rhino is “functionally extinct” in Borneo and in Malaysia – meaning that the few individuals remaining are insufficient to save the species.
How did we reach this dire state? A paper “Preventing the extinction of the Sumatran rhinoceros” by three experts from the Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) gives a critical account of how Malaysia blundered in its attempt to wrest the species from the brink of extinction.
It points to a combination of lack of knowledge on rhino reproduction biology, poor husbandry and veterinary care in captive centres, a misguided approach in focusing on protecting rhinos in the wild, and lack of co-operation between rhino range states that led to today’s rhino crisis. The paper was authored by Bora chairman Dr Abdul Hamid Ahmad, executive director Dr Junaidi Payne and veterinarian Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin,
“There is finally a realisation in Malaysia that it muddled through with Sumatran rhinoceros in the past 50 years, recycling fabricated population estimates and refraining from making necessary conservation decisions,” states the authors in the paper published in the Journal Of Indonesian Natural History (December 2013). It also publicly reveals for the first time, information on the causes of deaths of captive rhinos.