Image: Emi the rhino
Tom Uhlman  /  AP
Emi is the only Sumatran rhino who has been successfully bred in captivity.
updated 9/8/2009 1:54:32 PM ET 2009-09-08T17:54:32

An endangered Sumatran rhino has died at the Cincinnati Zoo, a setback to a program that successfully produced the first calves born in captivity in more than a century.

Emi, a 21-year-old Sumatran rhino that had been at the zoo for 14 years, died Saturday after appearing less energetic for several weeks, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden announced Sunday.

Emi produced three calves at the zoo, including Andalas, born in 2001, the first Sumatran rhino bred and born in captivity since 1889. Emi was the only captive Sumatran rhino bred successfully, said zoo director Thane Maynard.

"Naturally it's always devastating when an animal reaches the end of its life, but certainly one as beloved as she is — it's a big loss," Maynard said.

The zoo said Emi had appeared less energetic and had a diminished appetite since March.

Veterinarians performed a complete physical exam with blood work in early April and found some subtle changes in her liver. She appeared to improve in May but her condition then continued to deteriorate, the zoo said.

The zoo conducted a necropsy Saturday on Emi to try to determine exactly why she died.

Zoo researchers also removed eggs from Emi's body in hope of using them someday to produce a calf through in-vitro fertilization or other means.

Eight great extinct species"With a species so endangered it's important to save anything that you can," Maynard said.

The zoo has two remaining Sumatran rhinos: Emi's mate, Ipuh, and Suci, a calf that Emi birthed in 2004.

The zoo's breeding program grew out of an international recognition in the early 1980s that the Sumatran rhinos were disappearing at a rapid pace, due to poaching and dwindling rain forest habitat in Malaysia and Indonesia.

But little was known about caring for them, let alone how to successfully breed them.

Zoo researchers directed by Dr. Terri Roth used ultrasound, monitoring of hormone levels, observation and trial-and-error to learn how to breed the animals, the zoo said.

"Our fond hope is that by building on that, Emi certainly won't be last Sumatran rhino to breed in captivity and that the program will grow and continue from here and be one that helps a great deal," Maynard said.

Sumatran rhinos are considered the most endangered of the five living rhino species. Only nine Sumatran rhinos live in captivity worldwide and fewer than 200 animals exist in the wild, in isolated pockets of Sabah, Malaysia and the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. They can live for as long as 40 years.

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