Dwindling Sumatran Rhino Populations Can Be Saved

A Sumatran rhino munches on greens outside.

Image: A Sumatran rhino | National Geographic

Sumatran rhinos, like pretty much every species of rhino, are in danger of going extinct. Following the recent death of the last African black rhino, this is saddening, though not surprising, news. There may be a silver lining for Sumatran rhinos, though, following the conclusion of a study that caps 13 years of research.

Scientists have discovered that one of the most significant contributions to the decline of Sumatran rhinos is their inability to breed with frequency. Their populations are simply too small to sustain them, which coincides with ideas about minimum populations in other creatures, such as honey bees. There comes a point in any species where too few animals means the species, or at least a specific population of it, can’t survive.

In this case, there’s an extra twist: female rhinos that don’t reproduce for long periods of time develop tumors within their reproductive tracts, making it even harder for them to reproduce. They can’t find suitable mates, so they go too long without reproducing, which compounds the problem.

Researchers who have been studying the Sumatran rhino think they have an idea of how to save the species: total protection and stimulation of breeding. Basically, rhino populations must be moved to areas where they can be protected and observed, and they need to be assisted in reproduction, much like we do with many domesticated animals. The combination of these two efforts should help the rhinos to at least stabilize as a species.

It’s too late to apply similar practices for a number of other species, such as the African black rhino, but there are plenty of endangered species that could benefit from these discoveries. Numerous species have had their habitats destroyed or been hunted to near extinction, but with some effort we can help them overcome these dangers and survive, maybe even prosper.

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