The Sumatran rhino -- one of the most critically endangered mammals on the planet -- may have just received a lifeline.
A new scientific publication from WCS and the University of Massachusetts -- Amherst (UMass) applies an enhanced population survey technique to identify, for the first time, priority forest patches for intensive rhino protection of the remaining populations of Sumatran Rhino -- one of the most endangered large mammals on the planet. The paper is published in the September 16th edition of the open-access journal Public Library of Science (PLOS ONE) and provides vital data to support a final attempt to prevent the extinction of the Sumatran rhino.
The Sumatran rhino once ranged from northeast India to Indonesian Borneo and may have numbered in the tens of thousands only 200 years ago. However, the unyielding demand for rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine has reduced this species to perhaps less than 100 wild individuals, with no viable populations occurring outside of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
The study provides urgently needed information on where the remaining rhinos are distributed. Using rhino sign data collected in 3 presumed strongholds covering more than 3 million ha, a spatially-explicit habitat model was developed. The model predicted that rhinos now only occupy 237,100 ha in the Leuser landscape, 63,400 ha in Way Kambas National Park and 82,000 ha in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.
In total, they occupy only 13 percent of the surveyed area. However, the study identified five "Intensive Protection Zones" that are of unrivalled importance in saving Sumatran rhinos. As lead author Wulan Pusparini of WCS and Eco-UMass noted, "With so many unknowns on how to manage Sumatran rhinos in the wild or in captivity, our study definitely shows where we must protect them at the source."
The paper's authors recommend four vital actions achievable with strong political will:
1. Formally establishing the five Intensive Protection Zones identified in this study, and ensuring zero-poaching is achieved by significantly scaling-up law enforcement efforts. 2. Ensuring the viability of the Intensive Protection Zones by preventing several planned new roads from bisecting them in the Bukit Barisan Selatan and Leuser landscapes. 3. Consolidating the small and scattered rhino population in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and the outside core population of Leuser landscape identified by this study. Recognizing that this will require strong political will and major financial support. 4. Recognizing that Sumatran Rhino is likely to go extinct if no actions are taken, as happened with the last Javan Rhino in Vietnam in 2010.
The Director of Biodiversity Conservation of the Indonesian Ministry of Environmental and Forestry and chairman of Joint Rhino Conservation Secretariat of Indonesia, Bambang Dahono Adji, commented, "We welcome these important new results in supporting Indonesia's ongoing endeavors to fully implement its Sumatran Rhinoceros Action Plan."
Joe Walston, WCS's Vice President for Global Programs urged, "For the first time we have a clear idea of where the priority rhino's sites are, we have the tools and techniques to protect them, and now must ensure a concerted effort by all agencies to bring the Sumatran rhino back from the brink of extinction."
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