Sumatran Rhinos Have Been On The Decline Since The Last Ice Age

Rare Sumatran Rhino Discovered In Borneo

Scientists have managed to decode the Sumatran rhino’s genome. The species is one of the most endangered on the planet and according to its genetic blueprint, its population has been steadily falling for quite a while now. The species population decline began to occur during the last Ice Age when its habitat effectively shrank. Since then humans have been the problem causing populations to fall further. It is estimated that there are fewer than 250 wild Sumatran rhinos left.

Roller-Coaster Ride

Terri Roth a researcher from the Cincinnati Zoo says the species has been under pressure for a very long time now. According to the genome sequence data, its been a roller-coaster ride for the Sumatran rhino. The most recent ice age lasted between 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago and is known as The Pleistocene geological time period.

Sequencing the genome

The researchers sequenced the Sumatran rhino’s genome using a sample taken from a well-known male that used to reside at Cincinnati Zoo. The male rhino known as Ipuh died four years ago but fathered three offspring, more than any other rhino of his kind in the world. His genetic material was then deposited in a gene bank. Using his DNA scientists were able to infer a lot about the history of the rhino population.

Population started to bottom about 9,000 years ago

The researchers estimate that about 950,000 years ago, there was a 60,000-strong population, but by 12,000 years ago the end of the Pleistocene, like many other large mammals, the Sumatran rhino had lost much of their suitable habitat.  By about 9,000 years ago, the population reached a bottom and has never recovered. The researchers say the species now hangs on by a thread and humans should do more to try and save the species.

Human hunting

The Sumatran rhino used to be ubiquitous across virtually all of Asia, but as its name suggests it is now confined to Sumatra. The species is listed by the IUCN as being critically endangered and according to the agency the reason for this is because the rhinos are hunted for their horns and other body parts which are used in traditional Eastern medicine. At present there are 20 Sumatran rhinos housed in zoos mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, with a few in the United States.

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