Created on Monday, 26 August 2013 Written by DAN SEWELL, Associated Press
CINCINNATI (AP) — Animal conservationists at the Cincinnati Zoo who are trying to help save a rapidly dwindling species are encouraged about potential matchmaking for their lone female Sumatran rhino with a Malaysian male.
Wildlife officials in the southeast Asian nation announced recently that they want to try to capture a wild female rhino to breed with a male in captivity. The Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment for Sabah's state government, Datuk Masidi Manjun, told reporters there last week that if that plan doesn't work out by July, Sabah authorities would explore breeding the captive male named Tam with the Cincinnati female, Suci. That could include artificial insemination or sending Tam to Cincinnati on loan.
"We are absolutely thrilled that Sabah has made that decision," said Terri Roth, who leads the zoo's Center for Research of Endangered Wildlife. She commended the government and wildlife officials for making difficult decisions "needed for the survival of the species."
The Cincinnati Zoo has had the most successful captive breeding program for the Sumatran rhinos, with three being born there. The parents of the Cincinnati-born rhinos have died from age-related causes, and their oldest offspring was shipped to Indonesia where last year he fathered a male calf.
In the aftermath of a summit meeting this year in Singapore that concluded there may be as few as 100 Sumatran rhinos left in the world, the Cincinnati Zoo decided to try to mate its remaining male and female, even though they are siblings. The brother, Harapan, arrived back in Cincinnati from the Los Angeles Zoo last month, and the zoo has been planning to put the pair together soon.
Mating siblings carries some risks, but rhino preservationists say it's worth trying while Suci is still able to reproduce. Roth said Monday that the zoo conservationists haven't had time yet to discuss holding off on the sibling breeding until learning more about the efforts in Sabah.
Cincinnati officials have been hoping to get rhinos from Indonesia, but officials there have said they want to continue building their breeding program in the Sumatran rhinos' home region. U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, chairman of the House subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, has urged U.S.-Indonesian cooperation in the rhino breeding program.
Rhino populations have been reduced by poachers who value their horns for medicinal and other uses, and also by loss of natural habitat.