Senior Veterinarian, Dr Benn Bryant
Over the past six years I have been involved in the conservation efforts in Sumatra to help save the Sumatran Rhino species from extinction. This is not an easy task considering Sumatra Rhino numbers in the wild continue to fall with less than 100 animals remaining in the world. I guess it is even harder when those 100 animals are found across seven or eight areas in two countries. So that means that the different populations don’t meet for breeding.
These animals once existed in the thousands and whilst poaching is a problem in South-East Asia, special Rhino protection units have been established and are proving very effective. It is habitat loss to make way for the farming of palm trees for palm oil that has greatly reduced their numbers and continues to be a huge issue. During my visits to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary there have been many highs and lows from witnessing the birth of the sanctuary’s first naturally-conceived calf in 2012 to assisting to support an old Rhino with kidney disease which sadly passed away.
My last visit was to assist with an artificial insemination program that has been launched at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary to collect semen in an effort to preserve these amazing creatures. It was my responsibility to anaesthetise Andalas, the Sumatran Rhino bull which I consider to be an absolutely irreplaceable male, as he is the only competent breeding bull in human care. So there is a lot of pressure on me to ensure everything goes to plan and that the team is able to collect semen and the animal wakes up again from the procedure. It’s an intimidating and nervous time as a lot of the hopes for the species reside with this animal.
Following the procedure, Andalas recovered well and was back out in the semi-captive facility where the animals are managed in huge spaces in their natural environment. The procedure went well and hopefully in the coming months I will hear whether a female Rhino at the sanctuary is pregnant from the procedure performed on Andalas.
There is a real chance that these animals may become extinct but our organisation along with other Zoos and wildlife organisations around the world are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening.