WAY KAMBAS NATIONAL PARK, Indonesia (AP)
After traveling around the world by plane, ferry and truck, a Sumatran rhino born at a U.S. zoo slowly backed out of his crate into a sanctuary on his native island Wednesday. Once settled in, Andalas will be groomed for his next task _ breeding and helping save the critically endangered species from extinction.
The 5-year-old rhino was fed fresh green leaves upon arrival at Jakarta’s international airport on Tuesday.
After a checkup, Andalas traveled through rain for another 12 hours by truck and ferry, arriving at a sanctuary on Sumatra island just before dawn, where females Rosa and Ratu were waiting.
Andalas was hosed down and placed in a special quarantine pen, covered by a mosquito net to avoid diseases transmitted by flies.
“He is young and still full of energy,” said Arman Malonongan, Indonesia’s director general of forest and wildlife conservation. “Let’s just hope he falls in love.”
The Sumatran rhino is considered the most threatened of the five rhino species, with less than 300 still alive in isolated pockets in the forests of Malaysia and Sumatra, which is also home to endangered tigers and elephants
Rampant poaching for its horns _ used in traditional Chinese medicines _ and destruction of forests by farmers, illegal loggers and palm oil plantation companies has decimated their numbers over the past 50 years.
Conservation groups say saving the Sumatran rhino from extinction is possible, noting sustained efforts in India and Africa have led to booming numbers of species in those countries.
But they say breeding programs like the one that is bringing Andalas back to Sumatra and greater political will to stop poaching and forest encroachments are essential if numbers are to recover.
Andalas was born in 2001 in the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the first time a calf was bred and born in captivity since 1889, when a live birth was recorded at the Calcutta Zoo in India.
“We persevered through five years of intensive effort and endured many setbacks before finally producing Andalas … so it is hard to see him go,” said Dr. Terri Roth, the zoo’s vice president of conservation, science and living collections.
“Yet, we want nothing more than to help save this species from extinction, and if that means giving up our first-born calf, then we will rejoice in the opportunity.”