Rare Sumatran Rhino, Thought To Be Extinct For 40 Years, Dies Just Weeks After Its Historic Discovery

A rare Sumatran rhino, whose discovery made headline news less than a month ago after she was caught in a pit trap in Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo, has died. The rare species was thought to be extinct until conservationists made physical contact with the female on March 12 — it was the first time a Sumatran rhino had been spotted in Kalimantan in over 40 years.

Though in the past, conservationists had found footprints and dung thought to belong to the Sumatran rhino — and one had even been caught on video — last year, the species was declared officially extinct in Kalimantan. It was for that reason that when the 10-year-old female — named Najaq — was caught in the pit trap last month, it was an historic moment for conservationists in Indonesian Borneo. That excitement was short lived, however, when Nyoman Iswarayoga, a spokesman for World Wildlife Fund Indonesia, broke the sad news that the female rhino had died.

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According to International Business Times, a port-mortem examination will be done on the Sumatran rhino to fully determine cause of death, though preliminary exams show that the death of the rhino likely came as a result of a leg infection. It is believed the rhino suffered leg wounds from poachers or poaching traps, and the infection had caused her health to decline, ultimately leading to her death.

While nature conservationists are mourning the Sumatran rhino’s death, there is still cause to celebrate, says Tachrir Fathoni, a senior official at the environment ministry. Despite the fact that the rhino didn’t live long after she was caught, the fact that she was caught in Kalimantan in the first place, after four decades of believing the species extinct, gives hope that she was not the only one out there.

“The death of this Sumatran rhino proves they exist on Borneo, so we will continue protecting them.”

The discovery of the rare Sumatran rhino in Indonesian portion of the Island of Borneo was hailed as a landmark discovery by many, including the WWF, who called it “a major milestone for rhino conservation in Indonesia. Efransjah, chief executive of WWF-Indonesia echoed the same sentiments, calling for more conservation efforts to help keep the rare Sumatran rhino from truly becoming extinct.

“This is an exciting discovery and a major conservation success. We now have proof that a species once thought extinct in Kalimantan still roams the forest, and we will now strengthen our efforts to protect this extraordinary species.”

Efransjah reiterated the need for further efforts to help the rare Sumatran rhino when news broke of Najaq’s death.

“This is a very valuable lesson that shows saving a rhino can be very difficult, and needs the support of experts.”

In 2013, environmentalists found evidence of the rare Sumatran rhino in Indonesian Borneo, after hidden trail cameras snapped images of the animals, reports Discovery News. Since those first pictures were taken, around 15 individual Sumatran rhinos have been identified in the Kutai Barat area of West Kalimantan, however catching Najaq in a pit trap was the first time anyone had made physical contact with a Sumatran rhino in decades.

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Sumatran rhinos were once found all over Borneo, however due to poaching — the Sumatran rhino’s horns are used in traditional Chinese medicine — destruction of habitat, illegal logging, and palm-oil plantations, their numbers have dwindled. The species is now considered critically endangered not just in Borneo, but everywhere. Roughly only 100 Sumatran rhinos remain worldwide. Most are found in Sumatra, while nine others are currently in captivity.

The rare Sumatran rhino is the only Asian rhino with two horns. They are often also called the hairy rhino due to the fact that they are covered with long hair.

[Photo by AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana]