Study: A Lifeline for Sumatran Rhinos

Conservation scientists use an enhanced population survey technique that identifies, for the first time, priority forest protection zones irreplaceable for saving the critically endangered Sumatran rhino. The study identifies small and scattered populations that should be consolidated if they are to become viable.

Sumatran Rhinoceros photographed in Gunung Leuser National Park (inside Leuser Landscape). Credit: Leuser International Foundation and the Gunung Leuser National Park.

· Conservation scientists use an enhanced population survey technique that identifies, for the first time, priority forest protection zones irreplaceable for saving the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino
· Study identifies small and scattered populations that should be consolidated if they are to become viable
· “Sumatran rhinos can still be saved in the wild, but we must secure these protection zones, which would require significant investments in additional law enforcement personnel,” says lead author Wulan Pusparini.
· WCS and University of Massachusetts - Amherst (UMass) jointly authored the study

NEW YORK (16 September 2015) – The Sumatran rhino – one of the most critically endangered mammals on the planet – may have just received a lifeline.

A new scientific publication from WCS and the University of Massachusetts - Amherst (UMass) applies an enhanced population survey technique to identify, for the first time, priority forest patches for intensive rhino protection of the remaining populations of Sumatran Rhino – one of the most endangered large mammals on the planet. The paper is published in the September 16th edition of the open-access journal Public Library of Science (PLOS ONE) and provides vital data to support a final attempt to prevent the extinction of the Sumatran rhino.

The Sumatran rhino once ranged from northeast India to Indonesian Borneo and may have numbered in the tens of thousands only 200 years ago. However, the unyielding demand for rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine has reduced this species to perhaps less than 100 wild individuals, with no viable populations occurring outside of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The study provides urgently needed information on where the remaining rhinos are distributed. Using rhino sign data collected in 3 presumed strongholds covering more than 3 million ha, a spatially-explicit habitat model was developed. The model predicted that rhinos now only occupy 237,100 ha in the Leuser landscape, 63,400 ha in Way Kambas National Park and 82,000 ha in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.

In total, they occupy only 13 percent of the surveyed area. However, the study identified five “Intensive Protection Zones” that are of unrivalled importance in saving Sumatran rhinos. As lead author Wulan Pusparini of WCS and Eco-UMass noted, “With so many unknowns on how to manage Sumatran rhinos in the wild or in captivity, our study definitely shows where we must protect them at the source.”

The paper’s authors recommend four vital actions achievable with strong political will:

1. Formally establishing the five Intensive Protection Zones identified in this study, and ensuring zero-poaching is achieved by significantly scaling-up law enforcement efforts.
2. Ensuring the viability of the Intensive Protection Zones by preventing several planned new roads from bisecting them in the Bukit Barisan Selatan and Leuser landscapes.
3. Consolidating the small and scattered rhino population in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and the outside core population of Leuser landscape identified by this study. Recognizing that this will require strong political will and major financial support.
4. Recognizing that Sumatran Rhino is likely to go extinct if no actions are taken, as happened with the last Javan Rhino in Vietnam in 2010.

The Director of Biodiversity Conservation of the Indonesian Ministry of Environmental and Forestry and chairman of Joint Rhino Conservation Secretariat of Indonesia, Bambang Dahono Adji, commented, “We welcome these important new results in supporting Indonesia’s ongoing endeavors to fully implement its Sumatran Rhinoceros Action Plan.”

Joe Walston, WCS’s Vice President for Global Programs urged, “For the first time we have a clear idea of where the priority rhino’s sites are, we have the tools and techniques to protect them, and now must ensure a concerted effort by all agencies to bring the Sumatran rhino back from the brink of extinction.”

This important work was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund and Asian Elephant Conservation Fund.

SCOTT SMITH (WCS) (1-718-220-3698 [email protected])
STEPHEN SAUTNER (WCS) (1-718-220-3682 [email protected])

Notes to Editor
· The paper, “Rhinos in the Parks: An Island-Wide Survey of the Last Wild Population of the Sumatran Rhinoceros, appears in the current issue of PLOS ONE. Authors include: Wulan Pusparini of WCS and ECo – UMass Amherst, Paul R. Sievert, Todd K. Fuller, and Timothy O. Randhir of ECo – UMass Amherst and Noviar Andayani of WCS.
· Gunung Leuser National Park (within the Leuser Landscape) and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park are both classified as UNESCO Tropical Rainforest Heritage Site of Sumatra because of their outstanding importance for biodiversity. Despite its relatively small size, Way Kambas National Park still harbors Sumatran rhinoceros, Sumatran tiger, and Sumatran elephant.

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit:;; Follow: @thewcs.