Sectionov, Indonesia Liaison
International Rhino Foundation
Over the last decade, Sumatran rhino numbers appear to have declined by as much as 50%. Experts now estimate that a wild population of 100 animals or less remains on Sumatra and Borneo. In response to the crisis situation, a ground-breaking agreement to save this critically endangered species was recently reached between representatives of the Indonesian and Malaysian governments. The agreement was formed at a summit convened by the IUCN-The World Conservation Union’s Species Survival Commission and involved a wide range of international and national organizations. Prominent in the recovery strategy for Sumatran rhinos are captive breeding efforts in the two remaining range countries – Indonesia and Malaysia – and the United States.
An international managed breeding program for this species began in 1985. In Indonesia, 18 wild rhinos were captured in the forests of Riau and Bengkulu, and then placed in zoos in the United Kingdom, United States and Indonesia. However, between 1986 and 1997, 13 animals died due to various causes and no breeding took place. At that point, the decision was reached to establish a special facility – the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary – within Way Kambas National Park. Over the course of a decade, the Sanctuary acquired three wild-caught females – Bina, Ratu and Rosa – and a young male, Andalas, who was born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001 and subsequently transported to Indonesia. Andalas was the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity anywhere in the world in well over a century.
The first birth at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary took place on June 23, 2012, when the female Ratu gave birth to a male calf, Andatu, after a nearly 16-month pregnancy. The name Andatu combines the two parents’ names, and is also a shortened form of the phrase “Anugerah Dari Tuhan”, which translates as “Gift from God” in the Indonesian language.
Following recommendations of the Sumatran Rhino Global Management and Propagation Board, the Sanctuary is expanding its managed breeding program to include assisted reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination. This technology is still in its infancy for rhinos, having been used successfully only in the white and Indian species, but it may one day become a useful tool for Sumatran rhinos. A prerequisite for success is the collection of good quality semen (sperm) from a mature male through electro-ejaculation. To date, however, this has proven difficult. Semen samples collected from several males in recent years have contained very low concentrations of sperm, only a small percentage of which have been motile.
In 2011, an international veterinary team led by Dr. Dedi Candra, and including Drs. Terri Roth and Monica Stoops from the Cincinnati Zoo and Dr. Benn Bryant from Australia’s Taronga Zoo performed the first semen collection procedure on Andalas at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. They obtained 28 straws of sperm, all of which are have been frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen. The procedure was repeated by the same team earlier this month at the request of the International Rhino Foundation and Yayasan Badak Indonesia, in hopes of obtaining a larger, more concentrated sample. Also present for the procedure was staff from Way Kambas National Park, Taman Safari Indonesia and Malaysia’s Borneo Rhino Alliance.
The 80 semen samples recently collected from Andatu appear to be the best obtained to date from a Sumatran rhino. In addition to the ejaculation procedure, Andalas also received a dental check-up and had the sharp points of his incisor teeth smoothed down. This was done to limit any damage he might cause to females during courtship, when males often attempt to bite their mates. Andatu will be allowed to mate again with Ratu in the months ahead and will also continue to be introduced to the other females, Bina and Rosa, in hopes that he will breed them as well. These efforts emphasize a propagation strategy that employs all viable options in order to save a species on the brink of extinction.