The eastern Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni), also known as the Bornean rhino, is the world’s smallest rhino. It’s a subspecies of the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and is a shy and solitary creature that inhabits Bornean forests.
Poaching and deforestation behind their extinction
Or better, it used to inhabit. In fact, according to Environment Minister Masidi Manjun, there are no Sumatran rhinos left in the wild in the Malaysian state of Sabah. About 50 rhinos lived there in 2008, five years later there were only ten individuals left, and today they’re likely to be extinct.
The decline of this species is mainly linked to two factors: poaching for rhino horns (the horn actually doesn’t have any medical properties, contrary to many people’s beliefs), and habitat loss due to deforestation, mainly carried out to make place for oil palm plantations and human settlements.
The end of an ancient species?
There are currently only three surviving Sumatran rhinos in Sabah, two females and one male (Iman, Puntung and Tam), held in fenced, natural conditions at the Borneo Rhinoceros Sanctuary (BRS). But they seem to have problems reproducing.
“There is still hope to save the species from extinction. The only way to achieve that now is to use in vitro fertilisation,” according to John Payne, the Executive Director of the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) and one of the world’s top experts on the species.
Sumatran rhinos originate from the Pleistocene, when they lived freely in the forests of India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and China, until 1930, when people started hunting them for their horns, which were traded with Chinese people in exchange for porcelain objects.
Gradually, rhinos started hiding in thick forests, but humans deforested these areas allowing poachers to reach them. Another animal species is on the brink of extinction, due to humanity’s endless lust for blood.
There’s still hope to save these mammals that appeared on Earth 20 million years ago, and to allow them to continue roaming wild in our planet’s forests.