JAKARTA — Indonesian and German scientists are collaborating on assisted reproductive technologies for critically endangered species, with a primary focus on pulling the Sumatran rhino from the brink of extinction.
Indonesia’s Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) and Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) signed the collaboration agreement in May. It calls for establishing a center for assisted reproductive technologies, or ART, and a bio bank, or store of genetic resources, at IPB, according to an official statement. It added the first joint conservation science project will be to save the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), a species that now can only be found in Indonesia and is down to as few as 30 individuals.
“The Sumatran rhinos are now on the brink of extinction, so we have to act very fast,” Steven Seet, head of science communication at Leibniz-IZW, told Mongabay in an online interview on May 27. “What we can’t do is trial and error because the material is too precious, and as we’re working against time, we have to take the opportunity to save the species.”
The wild population of the rhinos is scattered across small, fragmented pockets of forest on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The species once ranged throughout continental Southeast Asia, but rampant poaching, deforestation and a climate change decimated its population and shrank its range. Experts also say a low birth rate and reproductive woes among the rhinos have added to the challenges of sustaining natural breeding in the wild.
The Indonesian government has prioritized rescuing wild rhinos to put them in sanctuaries for a captive-breeding program. Today, Indonesia has nine Sumatran rhinos in two sanctuaries: eight in southern Sumatra’s Way Kambas and one in the Kelian forest in eastern Borneo. A third facility is currently being developed in the Leuser ecosystem in northern Sumatra, which is touted by experts as the most promising habitat for wild rhinos.
Lead Image: A Sumatran rhino calf born at the Way Kambas captive-breeding sanctuary In March 2022. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
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