JAKARTA, Indonesia – The first Sumatran rhino born in captivity in more than 100 years arrived in Indonesia on Tuesday with a single task — to breed and help save the endangered species from extinction.
The 5-year-old rhino, Andalas, was flown from a zoo in the United States to Jakarta's international airport. After a checkup he was to travel another 12 hours by truck and ferry to a rhino sanctuary on Sumatra island, where females Rosa and Ratu await.
"He is young and still full of energy," said Arman Malonongan, Indonesia's director general of forest and wildlife conservation. "Let's just hope he falls in love there."
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The Sumatran rhino is considered the most threatened of the five rhino species, with less than 300 still alive in isolated pockets in the forests of Malaysia and Sumatra, which is also home to endangered tigers and elephants
Rampant poaching for its horns — used in traditional Chinese medicines — and destruction of forests by farmers, illegal loggers and palm oil plantation companies has decimated their numbers over the past 50 years.
Conservation groups say saving the Sumatran rhino from extinction is possible, noting sustained efforts in India and Africa have led to booming numbers of species in those countries.
But they say breeding programs like the one that is bringing Andalas back to Sumatra and greater political will to stop poaching and forest encroachments are essential if numbers are to recover.
Andalas was born in 2001 in the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the first time a calf was bred and born in captivity since 1889, when a live birth was recorded at the Calcutta Zoo in India.
"We persevered through five years of intensive effort and endured many setbacks before finally producing Andalas ... so it is hard to see him go," said Dr. Terri Roth, the zoo's vice president of conservation, science and living collections.
"Yet, we want nothing more than to help save this species from extinction, and if that means giving up our first-born calf, then we will rejoice in the opportunity."