The fight to save Earth’s small­est rhino in the jun­gles of Su­ma­tra

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Way Kam­bas Na­tional Park, In­done­sia

Deep from within the In­done­sian jun­gle a soli­tary, sel­dom seen for­est giant emerges from the un­der­growth.

It is a Su­ma­tran rhino, one of the rarest large mam­mals on Earth.

There are no more than 100 left on the en­tire planet and An­datu — a 4-year old male — is one of the last re­main­ing hopes for the fu­ture of the species.

He is part of a spe­cial breed­ing pro­gram at Way Kam­bas Na­tional Park in east­ern Su­ma­tra that is try­ing to save this crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species from dis­ap­pear­ing for­ever.

The an­i­mals are so rarely seen that even vil­lagers liv­ing near the park were stunned when a wild rhino wan­dered into their com­mu­nity.

“They thought it was a myth­i­cal crea­ture,” said Zulfi Ar­san, head vet­eri­nary sur­geon at the Su­ma­tran Rhino Sanc­tu­ary at Way Kam­bas.

“They chased her, and so we had to res­cue her.”

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.

This hair — cou­pled with their smaller stature and short horns — gives Su­ma­tran rhi­nos like An­datu a gen­tler, softer ap­pear­ance than their im­pos­ing, ar­mour-plated cousins.

They once roamed the vast, dense forests of Su­ma­tra, Bor­neo and Malaysia but land­clear­ing 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.

An­datu is close to reach­ing sex­ual ma­tu­rity, and con­ser­va­tion­ists hope he can play a star role in en­sur­ing the longevity of the species.

“Ev­ery birth is a hope,” Ar­san said.

GOH CHAI-HIN / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Con­ser­va­tion­ists hope that An­datu can play a star role in sav­ing the Su­ma­tran rhino, which is a crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species.

AP

Phe­lan Moon­song ar­gued that his goat horns, which act as his ‘spir­i­tual an­ten­nae’, didn’t ob­scure his face.

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