Conservation: Relocating wild Rhinos from Malaysia to Indonesia?

A new study argues for treating endangered Sumatran populations in Borneo and Sumatra as "a single conservation unit", lending academic support to a controversial proposal to move wild Rhinos from Malaysia to Indonesia.

The paper, authored by an international team of rhino experts and published in the journal Oryx, says that Genetic differences between the island populations are minimal. Given the dire straights of the species —the wild population is estimated at less than 100 individuals —the researchers argue that ensuring the Sumatran rhino's survival takes precedence over preserving what little genetic diversity remains between populations.

"In our paper, we discuss the pros and cons of considering the populations of Sumatran rhinoceros from Sumatra and Borneo as a single management unit," said study lead author Benoit Goossens, Director of the Danau Girang Field Centre in Malaysia, in a statement. "For a species such as the Sumatran rhinoceros, where time is of the essence in preventing extinction, we must ask to what extent should genetic and geographical distances be taken into account in deciding the most urgently needed conservation interventions."

"Genetic differences are minimal and we strongly believe that the observed differences do not justify keeping the Sumatran and Bornean populations as separate management units."
Image: Puntung, a female Sumatran rhinoceros, in forest stockade in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo a day after her capture in December 2011.