KOTA KINABALU: With only three known Sumatran rhinos in captivity in Sabah, scientists believe there is still a glimmer of hope for the species' survival through breeding stimulation in total protection.
In a new study, a consortium of international scientists found the remaining population of Sumatran rhinos in Borneo could be rescued by combining efforts of total protection with stimulation of breeding activity.
In the article published in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Conservation, the researchers suggested various measures to improve fertility.
The recent capture of a female rhino in Kalimantan, Borneo, that died due to infections showed the importance of immediate action needed to work towards saving the rhinos widely deemed as extinct in Sabah.
The study identified the low reproduction of females along with hunting as the main cause for the rhinos' current decline.
"Females cannot find a mating partner within the small isolated populations any more," Petra Kretzschmar, scientist at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), said in the study.
She added that the long non-reproductive periods led to the development of reproductive tract tumours.
"Only a combination of intensive protection with improvements of the reproductive performance can save the species from extinction," said Kretzschmar.
The researchers have recommended resettling populations of less than 15 individuals to highly protected areas, where reproductive health should be monitored on a regular basis and individual female fertility (conception) should be optimised.
It is believed that only about 100 Sumatran rhinos remain in Sumatra; while Borneo rhinos are one of two surviving subspecies of the Sumatran rhino in Sabah and Kalimantan.
The researchers who used Sabah's Tabin Wildlife Reserve noted that there was a dramatic decline in the Sumatran rhino's population.
It was more often spotted in 2000 but by 2013, scientists did not register any.
The reasons for the catastrophic decline of the Sumatran rhinos have not been previously clear, but the new study helps throw some light on the causes.
This will improve decision making for conservation management and possibly prevent similar developments in populations of other species of similar ecological standing.