Now or never: what will it take to save the Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis from extinction?

Abdul Wahab Ahmad Zafira1 p1 c1, Junaidi Paynea2 p2, Azlan Mohameda1, Ching Fong Laua1, Dionysius Shankar Kumar Sharmaa1, Raymond Alfreda2, Amirtharaj Christy Williamsa3, Senthival Nathana4, Widodo S. Ramonoa5 and Gopalasamy Reuben Clementsa6

a1 WWF–Malaysia, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

a2 WWF–Malaysia, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

a3 WWF–Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal

a4 Sabah Wildlife Department, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

a5 Yayasan Badak Indonesia, Bogor, Indonesia

a6 School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland, Australia, and Center for Malaysian Indigenous Studies, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


In 1994 Alan Rabinowitz decried what he regarded as lackadaisical attempts by governments, NGOs and international funding agencies to conserve the Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis. Sixteen years on it is timely to evaluate whether his warnings were heeded. We review the current conservation status of D. sumatrensis throughout its range and the latest threats and challenges complicating efforts to conserve this species. Recent data from governments, NGOs and researchers indicate that the global population could be as low as 216, a decline from c. 320 estimated in 1995. Based on lessons learnt and expert opinions we call on decision makers to focus on two core strategies for conservation of D. sumatrensis: (1) the translocation of wild individuals from existing small, isolated or threatened forest patches into semi-in situ captive breeding programmes, and (2) a concomitant enhancement of protection and monitoring capacities in priority areas that have established these breeding facilities or have recorded relatively high population estimates and track encounter rates. At least USD 1.2 million is required to implement these strategies annually in four priority areas: Bukit Barisan Selatan and Way Kambas National Parks on Sumatra, and Danum Valley Conservation Area and Tabin Wildlife Reserve on Sabah. Given that conservation funds are rarely secure and D. sumatrensis is still in decline we call on potential donors to help secure and augment existing capacities of organizations in these four priority areas before committing resources to elucidate the status of the species in other areas such as Gunung Leuser and Taman Negara National Parks.

(Received April 15 2010)

(Reviewed May 20 2010)

(Accepted July 01 2010)

(Online publication May 04 2011)


c1 WWF–Malaysia, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. E-mail ahmad.zafir@gmail.com

p1 Current address: School of Biological Science, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia

p2 Current address: Borneo Rhino Alliance, c/o Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia