Can We Save the Sumatran Rhino From Extinction?

By: Sascha Bos  | 
Close-up of a grey rhino's head and front haunches
The Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) lives in dense highland and lowland tropical and subtropical forests Southeast Asia and was once widespread from the Eastern Himalayas to Indonesia. Arman Travels / Shutterstock

The Sumatran rhino is the oldest rhino species alive today, but it may not be around much longer. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there is a 90 percent chance the remaining Sumatran rhino populations will become extinct within the next 60 years.

Learn more about this threatened rhino species.

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Sumatran Rhino Facts

The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) isn't just the most threatened rhino species. It's also the most unique. Here's why:

  • It's the only Asian rhino with two horns. The other Asian rhinos are the Javan rhino and the Indian rhino, which each have a single horn.
  • Sumatran rhinos are the smallest living rhinoceroses, weighing less than 1,870 pounds (850 kilograms). They are about 8 feet (2.5 meters) long and 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall at the shoulder.
  • Unlike other rhino species, Sumatran rhinos are covered in hair. They are more closely related to extinct woolly rhinos than to other living rhinos.

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Where Do Sumatran Rhinos Live?

The Sumatran rhino lives in dense highland and lowland tropical and subtropical forests Southeast Asia and was once widespread from the Eastern Himalayas to Indonesia.

The three recognized subspecies of Sumatran rhinos inhabited different regions:

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  • Dicerorhinus sumatrensis lasiotis is believed to be extinct, but once lived in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Myanmar.
  • Dicerorhinus sumatrensis sumatrensis formerly occurred throughout Southeast Asia and is now only found in Bukit Barisan Selatan, Way Kambas and Gunung Leuser National Park on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
  • Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni formerly occurred throughout the island of Borneo; one or two individuals may still live in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.

Sumatran Rhino Conservation Status

Sumatran rhinos were listed as critically endangered in 1996 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

How Many Sumatran Rhinos Are Left?

According to a 2022 report, there are 34 to 47 Sumatran rhinos left, representing a yearly population decline of 13 percent from 2017 to 2021.

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Threats to Sumatran Rhinos

Like other endangered and rare animals, Sumatran rhinos face several threats, including habitat loss, poaching and risks inherent to such a small population size.

Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) are empowered by the Indonesian government to prevent poaching for rhino horns in Sumatra. No Sumatran rhino carcasses have been found since 2006, which may be due in part to the fact that sighting Sumatran rhinos — dead or a live — is challenging in their dense tropical forest habitat.

Sumatran rhinos are generally solitary creatures with a large range. Replacement of their rainforest habitat with coffee, rice and oil palm plantations by illegal settlers reduces means Sumatran rhinos are losing critical forest cover.

In 2018, Indonesia formed the Sumatran Rhino Rescue initiative, which aims to identify and relocate wild Sumatran rhinos and increase captive breeding. Captive breeding has been moderately successful. In 2023, two sumatran rhino calfs were born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park.

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