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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless credited to others.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2024







Sumatran Rhinoceros

Family : Rhinocerotidae
Species : Dicerorhinus sumatrensis

Shoulder height : 1.2 to 1.3 metres
Head-body length : 2.4 to 2.6 metres
Weight : up to 1,000 kg

The critically endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros, or Asian Two-horned Rhinoceros, is the smaller of the two species of rhino which occur in Southeast Asia. It reaches a shoulder height of just 1.3 metres and can weigh up to 1,000 kg: in contrast, the Javan Rhinoceros Rhinoceros sondaicus reaches up to 1.8 metres in height and can weigh up to 2,000 kg.

Its natural habitat comprises moist lowland, hill and montane forest, and its localised movements are typically driven by the search for water. It is mainly solitary in habits, and is considered a generalist feeder of various vegetation, particularly woody shrubs and vines.

In Borneo, the species may have once played an important role in the dispersal of large forest seeds, measuring 4-6 cm across: the only other mammal which could have dispersed seeds of this size being the Asian Elephant (which has a limited distribution). Phillips & Phillips (2016) discuss this subject in some detail.

In 2008, IUCN estimated there to be around 250 individuals surviving but, sadly, the numbers are now (2019) likely to be even lower.  Attempts to breed the species in captivity typically end in failure.

Three subspecies  of this rhino are recognised, of which one may be extinct (D. s. lasiotis) unless there is a remnant population clinging on in Myanmar. D. s. harrissoni until very recently occurred at a few isolated locations in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo but is now effectively extinct. The other subspecies, D. s. sumatrensis, survives at a few locations in Sumatra, but is now probably extinct in Peninsular Malaysia, and is certainly extinct in Thailand.

The historical range of the Sumatran Rhinoceros was once broad, and included northeastern India, southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo.

Tragically this unique rhinoceros has been driven to the very edge of extinction mainly by the illegal wildlife trade: despite having tiny horns these are still poached for the trade in traditional medicine. In Sumatra, rhino protection units have had some success in halting the killing.

Figs 1 and 2 : Sumatran Rhinoceros in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, Way Kambas National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia.

References : M12

van Strien, N.J., Manullang, B., Sectionov, Isnan, W., Khan, M.K.M, Sumardja, E., Ellis, S., Han, K.H., Boeadi, Payne, J. & Bradley Martin, E. 2008. Dicerorhinus sumatrensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T6553A12787457.

Links :

Malaysia痴 last female Sumatran rhino falls ill, 17 Dec 2016

Reports that wild Sumatran rhinos may survive in Malaysia prompt hope, skepticism, 08 Dec 2016

Sumatran rhino is extinct in the wild in Sabah, 23 Apr 2015

Image attribution :
Fig 1 by Willem v Strien is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Fig 2 by Isabella
is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Fig 1
ゥ  Willem v Strien
Fig 2
ゥ  Isabella