Sumatran Rhinoceros - Conservation - in Captivity

In Captivity

Though rare, Sumatran rhinoceroses have occasionally been exhibited in zoos for nearly a century and a half. The London Zoo acquired two Sumatran rhinoceros in 1872. One of these, a female named "Begum", was captured in Chittagong in 1868 and survived at the London Zoo until 1900, the record lifetime in captivity for a Sumatran rhino. Begum was also the type of the extinct subspecies D. s. lasiotis. At the time of their acquisition, Philip Sclater, the secretary of the Zoological Society of London, claimed the first Sumatran rhinoceros in zoos had been in the collection of the Zoological Garden of Hamburg since 1868. Before the extinction of the subspecies Dicerorhinus sumatrensis lasiotis, at least seven specimens were held in zoos and circuses. Sumatran rhinos, however, did not thrive outside their native habitats. A rhino in the Calcutta Zoo successfully gave birth in 1889, but for the entire 20th century, not one Sumatran rhino was born in a zoo. In 1972, Subur, the only Sumatran rhino remaining in captivity died at the Copenhagen Zoo.

Despite the species' persistent lack of reproductive success, in the early 1980s, some conservation organizations began a captive breeding program for the Sumatran rhinoceros. Between 1984 and 1996, this ex situ conservation program transported 40 Sumatran rhinos from their native habitat to zoos and reserves across the world. While hopes were initially high, and much research was conducted on the captive specimens, by the late 1990s, not a single rhino had been born in the program, and most of its proponents agreed the program had been a failure. In 1997, the IUCN's Asian rhino specialist group, which once endorsed the program, declared it had failed "even maintaining the species within acceptable limits of mortality", noting that, in addition to the lack of births, 20 of the captured rhinos had died. In 2004, a surra outbreak at the Sumatran Rhinoceros Conservation Centre killed all the captive rhinos in Peninsular Malaysia, reducing the population of captive rhinos to eight.

Seven of these captive rhinos were sent to the United States (the other was kept in Southeast Asia), but by 1997, their numbers had dwindled to three: a female in the Los Angeles Zoo, a male in the Cincinnati Zoo, and a female in the Bronx Zoo. In a final effort, the three rhinos were united in Cincinnati. After years of failed attempts, the female from Los Angeles, "Emi", became pregnant for the sixth time, with the zoo's male "Ipuh". All five of her previous pregnancies ended in failure. But researchers at the zoo had learned from previous failures, and, with the aid of special hormone treatments, Emi gave birth to a healthy male calf named "Andalas" (an Indonesian literary word for "Sumatra") in September 2001. Andalas's birth was the first successful captive birth of a Sumatran rhino in 112 years. A female calf, named "Suci" (Indonesian for "pure"), followed on July 30, 2004. On April 29, 2007, Emi gave birth a third time, to her second male calf, named "Harapan" (Indonesian for "hope") or Harry. In 2007, Andalas, who had been living at the Los Angeles Zoo, was returned to Sumatra to take part in breeding programs with healthy females, leading to the siring and June 23, 2012 birth of male calf Andatu, the fourth captive-born calf of the era; Andalas had been mated with Ratu, a wild-born female living in the Rhino Sanctuary at Way Kambas National Park.

Despite the recent successes in Cincinnati, the captive breeding program has remained controversial. Proponents argue the zoos have aided the conservation effort by studying the reproductive habits, raising public awareness and education about the rhinos, and helping raise financial resources for conservation efforts in Sumatra. Opponents of the captive breeding program argue the losses are too great; the program is too expensive; removing rhinos from their habitat, even temporarily, alters their ecological role; and captive populations cannot match the rate of recovery seen in well-protected native habitats.

Read more about this topic:  Sumatran Rhinoceros, Conservation

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