Wildlife

Earth’s smallest rhino in Sumatra’s jungles

The Sumatran rhino, one of the rarest large mammals on earth, at the Rhino Sanctuary at Way Kambas National Park in eastern Sumatra. There are no more than 100 left on the entire planet.

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Sumatran rhinos are the smallest of all rhinos, and the only Asian variety with two horns. Unlike their better-known cousins in Africa, Sumatran rhinos are born covered in shaggy, reddish-brown fur, earning them the nickname “hairy rhino”. Their woolly covering fades to black or disappears almost entirely over their lifetimes, which span 35 to 40 years.

They once roamed the vast, dense forests of Sumatra, Borneo and Malaysia but land-clearing and poaching have devastated their numbers. In 2015, the species was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia, leaving just tiny herds of two to five rhinos scattered across Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo.

In Sumatra there are also small clusters in the west and the island’s northern Leuser ecosystem — the last place on Earth where wild rhinos, orangutans, tigers and elephants roam together.

Sumatran rhinos are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. Females are only fertile for a small window each cycle, and need male contact to ovulate. Even then, intercourse does not guarantee conception. To make matters worse, Sumatran rhinos are solitary by nature and often clash upon interaction. In one hundred years the Sanctuary had just seven babies.

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