An Ohio zoo that has the last Sumatran rhino in the United States on Tuesday announced plans to send the endangered species to Southeast Asia on a mission to mate.
Conservation experts at the Cincinnati Zoo say 8-year-old Harapan will soon be on his way to Indonesia, where nearly all of the estimated 100 remaining Sumatran rhinos live. Numbers of the two-horned descendants of Ice Age wooly rhinos have fallen by some 90 percent since the mid-1980s as development of their Southeast Asia forest habitat and poachers seeking their prized horns took their toll.
Cincinnati's zoo has been a pioneer in breeding the species, producing the first three born in captivity in modern times. Harapan will join the eldest, Andalas, who has been in Indonesia since 2007 and has produced one male offspring. Andalas will turn 14 next month.
"We are very sad about the (Sumatran rhino) program coming to an end here in Cincinnati," Terri Roth, the longtime head of the zoo's Center for Research of Endangered Wildlife, told The Associated Press. "It's a huge loss for us. But it's the right thing, to at least have Harapan able to contribute to survival of the species."
She said final details and permits are still being worked out, but it's expected Harapan will be flown to Jakarta, then taken by ferry to his ancestral island home of Sumatra.
Harapan and Andalas' sister, Suci, died from illness last year at the zoo, after the conservationists had earlier discussed trying to mate the siblings in a desperation move. Harapan was brought back to Cincinnati two years ago after being on loan to the Los Angeles Zoo.
Andalas lives at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary with three females and his one male offspring, born in 2012, on the Indonesia island. With three Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia and Harapani, there are only nine in captivity globally.
Conservationists and government officials gathered in Singapore in 2013 for a Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit to discuss increasing action to protect the species.
Environment ministry officials in South Africa, home to most of the world's remaining rhinos overall, reported a total of 393 rhino poachings through April, an increase of more than 20 percent over the same period in 2014. Rhino advocates said recently they believe the losses are even higher.
South Africa has struggled to counter poaching syndicates cashing in on rising demand for rhino horns in parts of Asia where some people believe they have medicinal properties for treating everything from hangovers to cancer.