There are less than 80 Sumatran rhinos left in the world

By Kelli Bender
November 25, 2019 02:47 PM

Malaysia is in mourning. The country said goodbye to their last Sumatran rhino this past weekend.

Iman, a female Sumatran rhino residing at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, died recently, losing her battle to cancer, according to CNN. The rhino, believed to be around 25 years old, moved to the sanctuary in 2014. 

“You were also the sweetest soul, who brought so much joy and hope to all of us. We are in so much pain right now, but we are thankful that you are no longer in pain,” the Borneo Rhino Alliance, which operates the sanctuary where Iman lived, posted to Facebook on Saturday along with a black-and-white photo of the animal.

“May we be as strong as you in our urgent fight to save your species. May we be as courageous as you to never give up,” the alliance added in the post, drawing attention to the fact that five Sumatran rhinos have died in the past 5 years.

There are less than 80 Sumatran rhinos left in the world, reports CBS, and they are listed as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Conservationists hoped they could breed Iman and the last male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, Tam, and prevent the species from going extinct in Malaysia. Unfortunately, Iman had a tumor that prevented conception and Tam did not have high quality sperm, according to the International Rhino Foundation. Tam died in May of this year due to organ failure.

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Genetic material was taken from both Iman and Tam in hopes that one day there will be the technology to “convert these cells into viable embryos that could be transplanted into surrogate rhinos.”

“There is limited knowledge about Sumatran rhino reproductive physiology and converting cells in a laboratory into viable embryos is complex,” Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation, said in a statement. “Still, there is hope for the survival of Sumatran rhinos.”

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For now, the few dozen wild Sumatran rhinos left in Indonesia (and the world) are being closely guarded to protect the animals from poachers. The Government of Indonesia is working with the International Rhino Foundation to bring Sumatran rhinos “with reproductive potential into large, semi-natural breeding and research facilities like the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS), a 250-acre facility built by IRF in partnership with local NGO Yayasan Badak Indonesia, which translates to the Indonesian Rhino Foundation, to increase population numbers.”