Earlier this year, conservationists welcomed the arrival of a critically endangered Sumatran rhino calf born in captivity in Indonesia. Two months have passed, and we're pleased to report that the new addition is doing just fine.

Only about a hundred Sumatran rhinos still survive in fragmented pockets of rainforest around Indonesia, but that number increased by one tiny little calf earlier this year, born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in the Way Kambas National Park.

Hailed as an important victory for the species, the female calf is just the fifth rhino of her kind to be born in captivity, and only the second recorded birth in an Indonesian facility in more than 128 years.

According to Dr Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), the little lady is doing just fine. Although the IRF team was slightly worried when mom, Ratu, experienced a breech birth, the complication does not seem to have affected the youngster at all. "She is doing great, growing [and] spending lots of time wallowing in the mud with her mom," Ellis explains via email.

The yet-to-be-named calf (that honour will go to the Indonesian president) joins five other rhinos at the 250-acre, natural-forest sanctuary, where her pen is kitted out with a closed-circuit TV system for round-the-clock monitoring, plenty of fresh foliage and even some toys to keep the youngster occupied.

Staff leave most of the real mothering up to Ratu, though – a rhino mom of two who gave birth to her first calf in 2012. "Ratu is a very good mother," says Ellis. "The team does not need to be terribly hands-on; they just make sure she has her favourite foods, including fresh browse."


Although first prize for the IRF team would be to release the calf into the wilds of Indonesia, her chances of survival and finding a mate would be slim. Instead, this young rhino's role will be to help secure the survival of her species through a breeding programme at SRS. The calf will remain at the sanctuary and will hopefully go on to become a mother herself.

"She will nurse for about a year or so," Ellis explains. "Then we will gradually start separating them for short periods so that Ratu can be re-bred. Most calves stay with their mothers for about three years."

Established in 1997 by the International Rhino Foundation, the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary is run by a team of dedicated experts who help manage the facility's vitally important breeding and research programme.

Because of shrinking population numbers and a dense habitat stitched together from fragments of rainforest, it has become difficult for Sumatran rhinos to find each other in the wild to mate – and that makes captive-breeding programmes crucial for their survival. Just last year, the species was declared regionally extinct in Malaysia.

Sumatran rhinos are among the rarest mammals on earth. Although few poaching incidents have been reported in recent years, demand for Sumatran rhino horn has played a significant role in the decline of the species, and population numbers have dropped by more than 50% in just the last 20 years.

The IRF team, along with the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia, is pioneering conservation initiatives to protect existing wild rhinos, while continuing captive-breeding efforts to learn more about the species and hopefully boost wild populations in the future.

"While one birth does not save the species, it’s one more Sumatran rhino on earth,” says Ellis.

Sumatran Rhino 1 2016 07 13
Image © Stephen Belcher
Sumatran Rhino 3 2016 07 13
Image © Stephen Belcher
Sumatran Rhino 2 2016 07 13
Image © Stephen Belcher

To find out more about the world's rhino species and what you can do to help, visit the IRF website.