By John R. Platt
Sometimes you just get desperate. In a last-ditch effort to help save the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) from extinction, the Cincinnati Zoo has gathered together the last two members of the species in North America and will now attempt to get them to mate. There’s just one catch: the rhinos are brother and sister.
Normally zoos wouldn’t even consider captive breeding of related animals. But with the total world population of Sumatran rhinos estimated at fewer than 100, Cincinnati Zoo says the hope they could produce young rhinos outweighs any potential risk. “No one wants to breed siblings,” Dr. Terri Roth, Vice President of Conservation and Science at Cincinnati Zoo, said in a press release on July 21. “But when a species drops below 100 individuals, producing more offspring as quickly as possible trumps concerns about genetic diversity. We are down to the last male and female Sumatran rhino on the continent, and I am not willing to sit idle and watch the last of a species go extinct.”
Sumatran rhinos are possibly the most endangered large mammals on the planet. Fifty percent of the population has disappeared in the past two decades, the result of human encroachment on their forest habitat and poaching for their valuable horns. The smallest of the rhino species, Sumatrans rhinos have two horns and a light coat of brown fur. They are the only surviving member of their genus and are closely related to the woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis), which went extinct several thousand years ago.
Cincinnati zookeepers hope that Harapan (a.k.a Harry), a six-year-old male, and his older sister Suci, an eight-year-old female, can help reverse their species’ population decline. More....