Back in 2001, Andalas became the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity in more than a century. His birth was cause for celebration – a new hope for a species that has been decimated in the wild. But Andalas was born far from his species’ native home in the lowland rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia, at a zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio.
At age 5, Andalas undertook a journey halfway around the world, from the Los Angeles Zoo (where he had been transferred after being weaned from his mother in Cincinnati) to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS), in Way Kambas National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia.
The Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, an intensively managed research and breeding program aimed at increasing numbers and knowledge about the Sumatran rhino population, is located inside Way Kambas National Park, one of the three habitats in Indonesia where wild Sumatran rhinos still exist. The rhinos at the sanctuary (five, including Andalas) live in large, open forest areas where they can experience a natural habitat – quite a change for Andalas!
Sumatran rhinos are browsers with a varied diet – in the wild, they feed on more than 100 different plant and fruit species. At his zoo home in the U.S., Andalas mostly ate ficus – a natural rhino food that was easily available in the U.S. At the SRS however, the rhinos are free to browse on numerous native plants available in their forest enclosures. The adjustment was a little difficult for Andalas at first – he wasn’t used to all the variety! While he was acclimating to life at the SRS, his keepers hand fed him browse mixed with fruit. But after nearly a year in the jungle, Andalas now loves native plants and readily finds browse himself. The young rhino is now up to 1,675 pounds and still growing!
Although the rhinos at the SRS lived in large, fenced enclosures, the sanctuary is located inside the forests of the national park, and many other animals often make guest appearances – another new experience for Andalas. Andalas is very interested in the other animals who visit his home, and has even been known to chase wild pigs! Before moving to the sanctuary, Andalas didn’t know how to wallow in mud holes – a favorite activity of Sumatran rhinos in the wild. (Wallowing in mud allows rhinos to cool themselves, and a mud covering helps protect their skin from insects and diseases.) Andalas’s keepers had to show him how to wallow when he first arrived in the jungle, but this too has now become one of his preferred pastimes.
The final frontier for Andalas was making the acquaintance of the female rhinos at the SRS, with whom we hope he will soon breed. After he was fully acclimated to his new life in Sumatra, the SRS keepers and vets began introducing Andalas to Bina, Ratu and Rosa. Once or twice a week, Andalas is put into an adjoining stall next to one of the female rhinos, so they can get to know each other through the fence. At first, Andalas mostly fought with the girls – typical rhino behaviour. But now he has started to develop more friendly relationships with Ratu and Rosa. Rosa is still too young to breed, but Andalas and Ratu have now been put in an enclosure together three times. The first two attempts resulted in more fighting, but during their third meeting the two rhinos started to exhibit some courtship behavior. It will still take more time before Andalas is actually ready to breed with Ratu, but the dedicated staff of the SRS will keep trying, and hoping for a pregnancy soon.
February 2008 will mark the one year anniversary of the American rhino’s move to Indonesia. This young rhino still has some more growing up to do, but Andalas is very happy in his new home!