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The Last Male Sumatran Rhino In Malaysia Has Died

There's something especially profound about seeing a species go extinct before our eyes. We observe it, catalogue it, draw it, and study it — then, it disappears forever. What makes things tough is the fact that this disappearance is usually our fault.

Rhinos have been in trouble for awhile now.

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There are five species of living rhinoceros in total. They're special creatures. Identifiable by their unique horns, they're some of the last examples of megafauna — basically, giant creatures that used to be more common in earlier times.

Their habitat is shrinking.

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This map displays things in stark terms. While rhinos were once widespread throughout Africa and Southeast Asia, they currently inhabit just a small sliver of their original habitats because of human encroachment.

The Sumatran rhino is critically endangered.

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Also known as the hairy rhino or Asian two-horned rhino, the Sumatran rhinoceros is the smallest member of the family. Unlike some of its relatives, its historic habitat is relatively small: mostly rainforests and swamps in Asia.

There are just five populations left.

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You can see where these Sumatran rhino families live in dark orange above. Four are in Sumatra, while one is in Borneo. It's just a tiny component of the habitat they once had.

In some areas, these rhinos are already extinct.

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In Malaysia in particular, the Sumatran rhinoceros has already been declared extinct. After recent news, it appears that we'll have to say goodbye to this rhino's population in Malaysia.

The last male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia has died.

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Named Tam, the last male of this species was found back in 2008, and then transferred to Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Biologists attempted breeding programs, but none were successful. In May of 2019, Tam passed away.

It's a serious blow.

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Just over two years ago, Malaysia had three Sumatran rhinos: Tam, and two females, Puntung and Iman. Puntung was put down after a cancer diagnosis in 2017, meaning Iman is the last remaining Sumatran rhino in Malaysia.

It isn't the end of the Sumatran rhino.

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Indeed, there are five colonies living in the wild. But all in all, it's thought that there are less than 80 total rhinos within these colonies — a number that makes it difficult to grow the population.

Conservation efforts are underway.

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A 2018 initiative from several conservation nonprofits, the Sumatran Rhino Rescue, sought to capture wild rhinos and bring them together to kickstart breeding programs. This may be the only hope for this species.

Breeding is easier said than done.

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Like pandas, Sumatran rhinos don't exactly breed like rabbits. Isolation and low populations mean that potential mates can't always find each other. Then there's the fact that female rhinos can have difficulty conceiving if they're over a certain age.

It isn't over yet.


While numbers have dipped perilously low, there's still hope for the Sumatran rhino. The large-scale breeding program is a good sign. Even news about individual rhinos dying serves as a way to bring attention to the cause.

We need to be good stewards of planet Earth.

Getty Images | GOH CHAI HIN

We're responsible for almost all of the changes to our planet that have made it difficult for many species to thrive. With our considerable resources, we need to do more to ensure a positive future.

h/t National Geographic

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