(File pix) An animal conservation programme dedicated to breeding Sumatran rhinos is crucial to prevent the critically-endangered species from going extinct.

KOTA KINABALU: An animal conservation programme dedicated to breeding Sumatran rhinos is crucial to prevent the critically-endangered species from going extinct.

World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF) executive director and chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said while the species is extinct in the wild in Malaysia, there is still hope for the rhino in Indonesia.

He concedes, however, that organising a breeding programme would be difficult.

“Experts have estimated that the current population in Indonesia is likely to be less than 100 individuals scattered in small, isolated groups in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“The population is so thinly spread out that breeding is believed to be minimal, which means that this species could go extinct within the next ten years, if not sooner,” he said in a statement

He added that the case of Puntung, one of the last rhinos in Sabah, which is awaiting euthanasia due to terminal skin cancer, is a wake-up call.

Dionysius called upon the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia, and all Sumatran rhinoceros conservation organisations, to work together as a dedicated team.

He added that the focus of Sumatran rhinoceros conservation should be on rescuing all remaining wild individuals for management in advanced facilities; increasing the number of births; and facilitating the movement of individuals and gametes among facilities as a population management tool.

The application of advanced reproductive technology (ART), as advocated by Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) – which is currently being attempted with renowned international reproductive scientists – remains the best bet to ensure that the species will be saved.

Meanwhile, the WWF Network Executive Team (NET) has mandated the creation of a Sumatran rhino working group, comprising representatives from WWF-Indonesia and partner offices, with the goal of pushing Sumatran rhino conservation to the top of the agenda of relevant governments, and to seek a common approach and agreements among all NGOs working on Sumatran rhino conservation.