Staff at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is mourning the death of Ipuh, a male Sumatran rhino who came to the zoo in the early 1990s. Ipuh and his former mate, Emi, became famous in the international conservation community for producing three calves – Andalas in 2001, Suci in 2004 and Harapan in 2007 – the first Sumatran rhinos born in captivity anywhere in the world since the 19th century. The first born, Andalas, was eventually sent to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park, where he mated with a wild-caught female, Ratu, and produced a male calf, Andatu, the first of his species born in captivity in its native Indonesia. Video of Ipuh can be viewed at https://www.yousendit.com/download/UW13bGtNcklOQnh2TzhUQw.
In December 2012, Ipuh’s keepers first noticed that he was moving stiffly and slowly when they entered his barn in the morning, which is not unusual behavior for aging animals. However, in late January, they began to notice that he was not eating all of his food overnight, which was unusual, and his mobility continued to decline even after he was given medication. Due to his rapidly deteriorating condition, zoo staff made the very difficult, but humane decision to euthanize Ipuh on Monday, February 18th. Dr. Terri Roth, Director of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW), is credited with solving the mystery of breeding Sumatran rhinos in captivity. She remembers Ipuh both fondly and proudly. “It is always devastating when a beloved animal reaches the end of its life, especially one whose amazing history makes him so special,” said Dr. Roth. “Our hope is that we can honor him by continuing to build on the legacy that Ipuh left behind, through his sons and daughters, as well as the scientific advancements that he contributed to in life.” It was Dr. Roth who discovered that mating stimulates ovulation in Sumatran rhino females, and it also was her decision to administer hormone supplements commonly used with horses –close relatives of rhinos – to help Ipuh’s mate, Emi, bring her first pregnancy to term. Emi did not require similar therapy to produce her second or third calves, but it was used successfully again to help Ratu deliver the first calf born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.
Indonesia’s Sumatran and Javan rhinos are the two rarest and most endangered of the world’s rhino species, and arguably the two most threatened large mammals on the face of the planet. Biologists estimate that only between 150 and 200 wild Sumatran rhinos survive in three Indonesian national parks on the island of Sumatra and as a small, non-viable population in Sabah, Malaysia. Perhaps as much as 50 percent of the world’s wild Sumatran rhinos has been lost in the last two decades due to habitat conversion for agriculture and to poaching for rhino horn, which some Asian cultures believe contains medicinal properties. With Ipuh’s death, only 10 Sumatran rhinos now survive in captivity – five in Indonesia, three in Malaysia and two in the United States. Although he was no longer reproductively active, at an estimated 33 years of age, Ipuh is considered the world’s oldest known and most prolific male Sumatran rhino in captivity, and his death brings into focus the role of captive breeding in the survival of this critically endangered species. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden works closely with the International Rhino Foundation, the Indonesian Rhino Foundation, Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry, and the IUCN/SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group to propagate Sumatran rhinos in captivity and to protect remaining wild populations. Both approaches are essential to securing the future for Sumatran rhinos.