Taronga Western Plains Zoo’s Dr Benn Bryant was invited to share our zoo’s knowledge of the Sumatran rhinos, as part of a global effort to save the species. Benn explained the importance of the workshop, held recently in Jakarta, to JOHN RYAN.
1) Tell us about the recent roundtable in Jakarta – what was it about and why was it convened?
Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered with fewer than 100 individual animals extant globally. Population densities in remaining fragmented populations in Indonesia are low, so low that surviving individuals do not meet to breed.
The Sumatran Rhino Capture and Translocation Workshop was convened to finalise operating procedures for the safe capture and translocation of surviving individual Sumatran rhinos into sanctuaries within Indonesia.
The workshop was convened by the Indonesian Department of the Environment and Conservation.
2) Who had a seat at the table and why were you invited?
Capture and translocation of wild rhinoceros is high risk.
Invitees included individuals and organisations with specific expertise in the chemical capture, medical management and husbandry of rhinoceros including wildlife workers from Africa, India, Europe and the USA.
I was invited as a representative of Taronga which is internationally renowned for its rhinoceros breeding and conservation programs.
3) How much credibility does it give Taronga Western Plains Zoo to be involved in these sorts of issues?
The invitation to participate was an acknowledgement of the high level of rhinoceros expertise possessed by Taronga staff.
4) How serious is the problem?
Very, very serious. This is a last ditch, desperate attempt to avert extinction of this species.
5) We’re talking about an apex species here, but what are the implications of this habitat loss for less obvious animal species right down the order?
Indonesian tropical ecosystems are incredibly complex and host a rich biota. Habitat loss has implications for the survival of an enormous number of species.
6) What outcomes eventuated from the meeting?
The various remnant populations were triaged for capture.
A set of operating procedures for location, capture and transfer of rhinos was finalised and a specific request for Indonesian government endorsement to proceed was composed (including a request to the President for endorsement)
7) What are your predictions and what do you think needs to be done to help the Sumatran Rhino and other species facing stress across the world because of the influences of encroaching civilization?
The Sumatran rhino is in desperate trouble and may have already entered the ‘extinction vortex’.
But... southern white rhinoceros were in equally desperate straits at the end of the 20th century, with fewer than 20 individuals in a single population.
This species was targeted by wildlife managers in South Africa for strategic capture/translocation and protection and recovered to become the most numerous extant rhino species today. You never know your luck...
Benn Bryant with a Sumatran Rhino at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. Photo: Taronga Western Plains Zoo
Background: What we’re doing to help
Taronga Western Plains Zoo (TWPZ) is home to three species of rhino – Black Rhino, White Rhino and Greater One-horned Rhino – with successful breeding programs for all three species.
Taronga is a founding member of the International Rhino Foundation, which helps manage the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, a 250-acre complex located within Way Kambas National Park.
At the Sanctuary, the rhinos reside in large, natural rainforest habitats and receive state-of-the-art veterinary care and nutrition.
Taronga’s expertise has been called upon to provide a range of support including husbandry and veterinary expertise, along with funding community based anti-poaching rangers in the Way Kambas National Park.
Dr Benn Bryant from TWPZ has travelled to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary on a number of occasions to provide veterinary advice and expertise.
Based on the extreme circumstances facing rhinos and our commitment to rhinos, the Sumatran Rhino was one of the species chosen this year as a Taronga Centenary Legacy Species. This means Taronga is committed over the next 10 years to supporting Sumatran Rhinos including funding anti-poaching projects, providing financial support and expert staff from our veterinary and husbandry teams, and focusing on local communities around Way Kambas National Park to build capacity around eco-tourism and education programs.