In the 1980s, in response to the rapid population decline of wild Sumatran rhinos, a captive breeding program was initiated for this species. Initially, there were many critics of the program, and their stance appeared justified as the rhinos in it began experiencing health problems and dying while no offspring were produced. However, animal care staff began learning how to properly feed and care for this species, and the first Sumatran rhino calf produced by this program was born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001 through the meticulous problem-solving investigative research at the Zoo’s CREW facility. Since then, two additional calves have been produced in Cincinnati while the wild population of rhinos has continued to plunge at a terrifying rate. The success in Cincinnati was the direct result of years of study and good science conducted by CREW scientists that led to an understanding of the female rhino’s reproductive physiology, successful matings, and eventually, term pregnancies and live calves. Now, even those most critical of the Sumatran rhino captive breeding program when it was first initiated have conceded that it may be not only important, but absolutely essential in the effort to save this species from extinction. Dr. Terri Roth, Principal Investigator for the proposed project, was asked by a New York Times reporter (see article in Attachment F) in 2001 after the birth of Andalas, the first Sumatran rhino calf born at the Cincinnati Zoo, “With only about 300 Sumatran rhinos left, is it possible to bring them back from the brink of extinction?” Her response is as relevant today as it was in 2001: “Absolutely. And there are examples of other species that dwindled down to close to 20 animals and they were brought back. If you look at the bison, the black footed ferret, the Arabian oryx, even the Wyoming toad, they’ve come back. People sometimes ask, ‘When do you give up?’ I don’t think you ever do until they’re gone. Zoos can play a big role....” However, to-date, only the Cincinnati Zoo, with CREW’s scientific expertise, has been successful in breeding this species, and only two founder animals are genetically represented in the slowly growing first generation of captive-born rhinos. Many of the initial partners in this program no longer have rhinos, and today, the only other breeding center is the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Sumatra; however, the SRS has yet to produce a pregnancy. Breeding the Sumatran rhino is extremely difficult and requires good science, meticulous management and an almost intuitive understanding of rhino behavior. Herein, we are proposing, over a two-year period, to advance the Sumatran rhino breeding program utilizing the strengths and proven track record of CREW scientists, who will study and assist our Indonesian colleagues in resolving the problems encountered with breeding the rhinos at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. The SRS currently houses one older male, one young male and three female rhinos that have not contributed genes to the captive population and must do so if we are to avoid significant inbreeding in the very near future.
Project 0925694 location - Indonesia, Asia