Science / Trending

Almost Extinct Sumatran Rhino Seen in Borneo For First Time in 40 Years

There is rarely good news when it comes to endangered species, but now small positive sign has been provided by a sighting of the Sumatran rhino for the first time in 40 years. The endangered Sumatran rhino was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia, with conservations warning humanity that rhino only had about 100 in numbers in the entire world. Simon Stuart of International Union for the Conservation of Nature told The Guardian that extinction was increasingly likely due to an ongoing poaching crisis and destruction of the rhino’s habitat.

Now conservationists have announced that for the first time in 40 years, they made contact with a Sumatran rhino in the wild. The rhino was seen in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. The WWF captured the animal on March 12 in order to put it into protective custody. The group assumed the Sumatran rhino was already extinct in Kalimantan, but evidence of footprints and photos back in 2013 seemed to confirmed the rhino was still present. Still, no one had actually visually observed a rhino for 40 years.

“This is an exciting discovery and a major conservation success,” Pak Efransjah, CEO of WWF-Indonesia, said in a statement. “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 IUCN has classified the Sumatran rhino as critically endangered since 1996. It is only found in the wild in Indonesia, including on the island of Sumatra. The Sumatran rhino is considered the smallest living rhinosaurus. It is covered with long hair, which earned the rhino the nickname the “hairy rhino.” Sumatran rhinos once were heavily populated throughout Asia, starting in norther India and China, and spreading to Myanmar, Thailand and the Malay Peninsula.

The creature is more related to the extinct wooly rhinos than any rhino species who are alive today, says the WWF. This means the rhino is a precious link between our modern world and some of the oldest animals in the world. “It’s a fantastic animal. It’s the weirdest of all the rhinos. They meow like a cat,” said Simon Stuart. “No one is going to get rich on Sumatran rhinos other than those illegally trading in the horn. There are frankly no economic benefits to saving it, it’s just a moral obligation.”

The rhino captured by the WWF is a female that is thought to be 4 or 5 years old. There are plans to re-home the rhino to a special sanctuary about 100 miles from her capture site. The sanctuary’s actual location has been kept a secret in order to deter poachers from encroaching on the land. Poaching took a major toll on the species, and by 1965 researchers already considered the rhino “very rare.”

Those who want to save the Sumatran rhino will be able to use the photos of the adorable little animal to draw more attention to their plight. Conservationists have been trying to encourage breeding among the rhinos who still exist. Last year a rhino named Harapan, the only male Sumatran rhino in the western hemisphere, was taken from the Cincinnati Zoo to a sanctuary in Sumatra. His job? To mate with the female rhinos, in particularly one named Rosa. The 10,000 trip for Harapan is part of a team effort to ensure that the hairy rhinos still exist and even thrive once more.

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