Conservationists Await Rare Sumatran Rhino Birth Anticipation Builds for Birth of Baby Rhino in Indonesia
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June 22, 2012
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– The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) is anticipating a monumental birth of a Sumatran rhino at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia’s Way Kambas National Park. If all goes well, this birth will take its place in history as one of the most significant advances in the ex situ conservation effort for Sumatran rhinos. There are fewer than 200 Sumatran rhinos living in Indonesia and Malaysia. This will be the first birth of a Sumatran rhino in an Indonesian facility.
The rhino calf is expected to be born sometime within the next two to three weeks. The mother, Ratu, is a 12-year-old Sumatran rhino, and she will be carefully monitored by her primary veterinarian and keepers, as well as international rhino experts from several continents.
Ratu’s pregnancy is a step toward ensuring the future of one of the world’s most endangered species. A cohort of international rhino experts from around the world are cheering on the mother rhino, including veterinarians from the Cincinnati Zoo in the U.S. – where the father, Andalas, was born – and the Taronga Conservation Society in Australia.
“Ratu’s pregnancy is a significant milestone in our efforts to conserve the Sumatran rhino population and represents a truly global effort,” said Dr. Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation.
Conservationists are hopeful that this birth will mark a long-awaited success at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, which the International Rhino Foundation opened in 1998. The sanctuary is maintained in partnership with the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia and Way Kambas National Park, Indonesia Ministry of Forestry.
This is the third pregnancy for Ratu, who lost her first pregnancy after two months and her second after less than a month. Andalas, the young rhino who bred with Ratu in early March 2011, lives in the same sanctuary. He was brought from the U.S., where he was born 11 years ago, in the hopes that he would one day breed with one or more of the three females at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.
Dr. Dedi Candra, head veterinarian and animal collections manager for the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, has been monitoring Ratu’s pregnancy by weighing her weekly and conducting regular ultrasound exams, using methods developed by the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife.
“We have been with Ratu every step of the way during her pregnancy,” Candra said. “Ratu’s pregnancy gives hope to the conservation of the endangered Sumatran rhino population, and our whole team is excited to be a part of this moment in conservation history.”
Ellis will work with the veterinary team immediately after the birth to harvest placental cells that can be used to generate stem cells. Stem cells have the potential of being useful for many purposes in the near future, including curing diseases and helping promote reproduction.
Thanks to training from the San Diego Zoo Center for Conservation Research Genetics Laboratory, the team will be taking small samples of tissue from the newborn rhino’s placenta and then extracting and freezing fibroblast cells for future stem cell work. Fibroblasts are commonly used to create stem cells because they can be easily extracted and cultured in the lab. These cells will remain stored in Indonesia.
“This is yet another way in which this birth can contribute new knowledge and tools potentially important to sustaining the future of this critically endangered species," Ellis said.
The Sumatran rhino is seriously threatened by the continuing loss of its tropical forest habitat and hunting pressure from poachers, who kill rhinos for their valuable horns. Every pregnancy is a vital step toward maintaining the survival of the species, which runs the risk of extinction by the end of this century.
Rhino pregnancies are some of the longest in the animal kingdom, taking 16 to 18 months to reach term. Rhino cows require a great deal of privacy during labor and delivery. Veterinarians and keepers at the sanctuary have been studying video recordings from the three previous Sumatran rhino births at the Cincinnati Zoo to learn as much as possible about what to expect with the impending delivery. Zookeeper Paul Reinhart, who attended all three births in Cincinnati, is also standing by to advise, using his experience with Andalas’ mother to help keepers recognize signs of an impending delivery and see it safely through.
The Sumatran rhino, also called the “hairy rhino” because of its hairy body and tufted ears, is the most endangered of all rhinoceros species because of its rapid rate of decline. Because of poaching, numbers have decreased more than 50 percent over the last 20 years. It is believed that fewer than 200 Sumatran rhinos survive in very small and highly fragmented populations in Southeast Asia. Indonesia and Sabah, Malaysia, hold the only significant populations. The species is thought to be extinct in Peninsular Malaysia. Sumatran rhinos exist only in protected areas where they are physically guarded from harm by Rhino Protection Units. Continuing this protection provides the best possible hope for the species’ survival.