Al Behrman / AP
In this Wednesday, July 17, 2013 photo, Harapan, a male Sumatran rhino, sniffs the air, at the Cincinnati Zoo in Cincinnati. His sister, Suci, is kept in an area next to his. With the global population of Sumatran rhinos plunging at an alarming rate, Cincinnati Zoo experts who have some success with captive breeding are trying something they admit is a desperation effort; bringing back the brother of a female rhino in hopes they will mate. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Six-year-old Harapan is one of only two Sumatran rhinos in North America. The other rhino is his older sister, nine-year-old Suci.
So, in the next few months, scientists at Cincinnati's Linder Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) are hoping to work their magic and have the siblings mate to help save the species.
In April, about a hundred participants gathered in Singapore for a Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit where news that about 100 of the rhinos are left in the world, meaning the population has decreased by more than 50 percent in the past decade, according to the zoo’s press release.
Dr. Terri Roth, director of CREW at Cincinnati Zoo, said it’s not ideal to breed siblings, but there are not enough Sumatran rhinos available to prevent it.
“We are down to the last male and female Sumatran rhino on the continent, and I am not willing to sit idle and watch the last of a species go extinct,” he said.
Harapan and his sister are two of three successful Sumatran rhinos born at the Cincinnati Zoo. The zoo is responsible for the first calf bred in captivity in 112 years when Andalas, Harapan and Suci’s father, was born in September 2001.
Harapan was born in 2007 in Cincinnati, but was moved to White Oak Conservation Center in Florida and then to the Los Angeles Zoo, which is also part of a team of zoos and organizations trying to save the Sumatran rhinos that includes the Cincinnati Zoo, the International Rhino Foundation, the Indonesian Rhino Foundation, SOS Rhino and World Wildlife Fund.
Roth said financial support is hard to come by because U.S. federal dollars for conservation are restricted for captive breeding efforts and the plight of the Sumatran rhino is not as well known as other endangered species like the giant panda.
The captive breeding program in the U.S. is essential to the survival of the Sumatran rhino population, Jeff Holland, a mammal curator at the Los Angeles Zoo, said in a statement. He added that there has been resistance from the Indonesian government in helping capture the rhinos to enhance the gene pool so that inbreeding no longer has to happen.
“The U.S. captive breeding program needs new genetic diversity to ensure it continues to flourish, before it’s too late,” Roth said.
If Harapan and Suci successfully mate, a new Sumatran calf will be born 16 months later.
First published July 21 2013, 10:55 AM