Sumatran Rhino, WayKambas National Park, Indonesia
Sumatran Rhino, WayKambas National Park, Indonesia

In just under a month, rhino specialist from around the world will convene the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit, a crucial international meeting aimed at saving one of the planet’s most critically endangered species from extinction.  The five-day Summit is scheduled to be held from March 31 – April 4 in Singapore.

Two-horned, hair-covered rhinos – early ancestors of the present-day Sumatran rhino – appeared on Earth nearly 20 million years ago.  Sumatran rhinos were once widespread throughout Southeast Asia, occurring from the foothills of the Himalayas southward to the extreme southern tip of Sumatra.  However, hunting for horn and other body parts, in combination with the loss of tropical forest habitat, has resulted in the disappearance of Sumatran rhinos from at least four countries.

Andatu and Ratu - Sumatran Rhinos, Way Kambas National Park, Indonesia
Andatu and Ratu – Sumatran Rhinos, Way Kambas National Park, Indonesia

At one time the species probably numbered in the tens of thousands, but today probably fewer than 200 animals survive as small, fragmented populations.  From 14 sites that recorded the presence of Sumatran rhinos twenty years ago, only five still harbor the species:  Bukit Barisan Selatan, Gunung Leuser and Way Kambas National Parks on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, and the Danum Valley Conservation Area and Tabin Wildlife Reserve located in Sabah, Malaysia in northeastern Borneo. In addition, 10 animals held in zoos and special sanctuaries in Indonesia, Malaysia and the United States offer a thin sliver of hope that managed breeding programs will serve as a stopgap against extinction.The Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit has been called to review the present situation and existing strategies for survival, to identify key issues and possible actions, and to gain inspiration from previous endangered species campaigns and important lessons learned.  Wildlife conservationists are encouraged by success stories such as those of the Californian condor, black footed ferret, Mauritius kestrel, pink pigeon and red wolf, as well as of the Indian rhino and white rhino – both of which also were reduced to wild populations of less than 200 individuals by the early 1900s.

Sumatran Rhino - Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
Sumatran Rhino – Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

The International Rhino Foundation will be represented at the Summit by executive director Susie Ellis.  Other participants will include individuals who have firsthand experience at saving endangered species from extinction, persons whose efforts to save endangered species have not met with success, representatives of institutions that are currently involved in protecting wild Sumatran rhino populations and breeding this species in captivity, current major donors to Sumatran rhino conservation, and interested parties who may help initiate new opportunities for the long-term support of critical programs.

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The International Rhino Foundation is dedicated to saving the world’s five remaining rhino species. To learn how you can help support our Sumatran Rhino Conservation Program, go to: http://www.rhinos.org/sumatran-rhino-conservation-program.