- Status: Critically endangered.
- known as: Sumatran Rhino, Hairy rhinoceros.
- Estimated numbers left in the wild: Less than 275.
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The world’s smallest rhinoceros, the Sumatran rhino, is still an imposing beast, weighing an average of 800 kilograms and sometimes attaining 1,000 kilograms. It stands 1.2 to 1.5 meters high and is 2.5 to 3.2 meters long.
Its tough, armored hide – which is up to 1.6 centimeters thick – sports a coat of reddish-brown hair, which is thickest in calves. Interestingly, this hair is believed to have a cooling function. Rather than serving as insulation, it allows cooling mud to cling more heavily to the rhino’s skin, besides defending from bloodsucking insects.
The Sumatran rhino, a two-horned rhinoceros, is a solitary creature that lives in thick forests and swampland, including lowland rain forest and cloud forest in the tropical mountains of south-east Asia. It needs to keep cool during the day and spend the daytime in water or mud, often in a wallow created by the rhino itself.
As darkness falls and the temperature drops, the rhino rouses itself and begins to forage. A herbivore like all rhinos, the Sumatran eats foliage, fruit, bamboo, and bark.
These animals greatly prize wild mangoes and figs. Every rhino’s territory includes a salt lick. These rhinos are quite stealthy despite their size, and even trained scientists have difficulty finding them.
Sumatran rhinos keep to their own territories, and males and females come together only briefly to mate. The boundaries of these territories are marked by piles of dung, sprays of urine, and bent saplings. The rhinos also make trails that may be used over the course of many generations.
Living in a dense jungle environment, these rhinos are very vocal, yelping and whistling to communicate with each other. Sexual maturity comes between six and eight years, and a calf is born to a healthy female once every four years.
Highly aggressive, young male rhinos may sometimes accidentally kill a female while attempting to court her. A Sumatran rhino can live for 30 to 40 years, though most probably have shorter lives in the wild.
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The Sumatran rhino is confined today to Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo, though its range was once far-flung in the region. There may be additional rhinos living in Myanmar, India, Laos, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Cambodia, but these reports have not been confirmed.
These rhinos live in both lowland and mountainous terrain wherever there is a thick jungle, plenty of water, and their preferred food plants.
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Hunting and poaching are the foremost threats to the Sumatran rhino, far ahead of even habitat loss. As with many species in the region, it is not hunted primarily for its meat but for supposedly medicinal body parts to sate the needs of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
The horn is also sold as far afield as the Middle East, where it is used to make dagger hilts. The Sumatran rhino has been hunted excessively for many years, but poaching today involves a great risk of outright extinction.
With less than 300 animals alive, each death not only reduces the number available to breed but makes catastrophic inbreeding more likely.
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Ham-handed efforts to establish a captive breeding stock nearly extinguished the species, though a few young rhinos have been born in captivity. Therefore, conservation attempts have shifted totally to stopping poaching from occurring.
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The Aspinall Foundation
In 1998 The Aspinall Foundation returned a Sumatran Rhino to a breeding center in Sumatra after staying thirteen years at their Port Lympne park in the UK.
Save the Rhino
Save the Rhino works with local partners in Asia and Africa to protect the five different rhino species. They support anti-poaching activities, monitoring, environmental education, community conservation, translocations, and captive breeding.