In a desperate effort to stave off the extinction of Bornean and northern white rhinos, conservation groups in Malaysia and Kenya are appealing to the public to fund high-tech assisted reproduction efforts. / Jeremy Hance
Introduction from BORA: Many thanks to Jeremy Hance and Mongabay for yet again playing an important role in drawing attention to the Sumatran rhino. I would like to highlight two points. Sumatran rhino represents a genus, not a sub-species. Without new action, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis will be the first terrestrial mammal genus to go extinct since the thylacine in 1936. We should no longer continue with the idea of keeping the Sumatran and Bornean forms separate, but treat them as one species to be saved under one program to boost births of the genus.
Secondly, whatever happens with the now non-viable Bornean sub-species and to Borneo Rhino Alliance, Indonesia has to step up with a genus recovery program that incorporates Indonesian and Malaysian rhinos, and Bornean and Sumatran sub-species. Without that, Indonesia will take the blame when the genus does go extinct, under current trends around 2030. However, the Government of Indonesia should not take the blame. It is about time that IUCN, WWF, International Rhino Foundation and Indonesian Rhino Foundation give rational, consistent, clear and scientific advice to Government of Indonesia on exactly what needs to be done. Funds urgently need to be allocated to serious efforts to save the genus.
Cash-strapped rhino groups turn to crowdfunding, with little success
There’s probably only one thing left that can save the Bornean rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni): cutting-edge, high cost in vitro fertilization (IVF) technology. This subspecies of the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino is represented by a dwindling handful of survivors in the wild – one of whom just perished when conservationists tried to move her this year – and three individuals living in captivity. The captive rhinos, one male and two females, are incapable of natural reproduction due to fertility problems. Extinction is on the horizon unless IVF is able to start producing rhino babies – and fast.
The technical difficulties are high – including the fact that IVF has never been successfully done with any of the world’s five rhino species – but the biggest hurdle may actually be something much more prosaic: money.
“Donors want to be assured that the animal will not go extinct on them in the next few years,” said John Payne, the executive director of the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA). “It is much safer to put money into a threatened species than it is to put money into a species that is on the edge of extinction.”