Harapan the Hairy Rhinoceros

There are only about 100 Sumatran rhinos, also called Hairy rhinos, left in existence and only nine of them are cared for in captivity. Of those nine, there is only one that lives outside of Southeast Asia. This special guy is Harapan, affectionately known as Harry and who in 2007, was the third of three calves born at the Cincinnati Zoo over six years.

Even more remarkable are the additional successes of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). In 1984, a captive breeding program began but there was no success until 1997, when CREW scientists began using endocrinology and ultrasonography to learn about the reproductive physiology of Sumatran rhinos. Ultimately, this resulted in the first Sumatran rhino calf bred and born in captivity. Harapan’s older brother Andalas was born on September 13, 2001. In 2004, his sister Suci was born. Unfortunately, Suci passed away in 2014 after a prolonged illness that was aggressively treated by staff and veterinarians for months. Suci had hemochromatosis, which is the same condition to which her mother succumbed. Hemochromatosis is an iron storage disease that is known to be inheritable in humans. It likely is inheritable in rhinos also.

In 2007, the Cincinnati and Los Angeles Zoos (where Andalas was living) agreed to send Andalas to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, a breeding facility in the Way Kambas National Park of Indonesia, to replace an old, infertile bull. In 2012, a healthy son was born to Andalas in Sumatra.

Andalas nudging Ratu Photo by B. Bryant, Taronga Conservation Society, Australia
Andalas nudging Ratu
Photo by B. Bryant, Taronga Conservation Society, Australia

This month, the Cincinnati Zoo announced that Harapan will be moved to Indonesia. He is sexually mature and his opportunity to breed and contribute to his species’ survival exists only at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. There are three possible mates awaiting Harry’s arrival.

Listed as Critically Endangered on The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species, the Sumatran rhino is the smallest and last form of the Two-horned hairy rhinos that have lived on the planet for 20 million years. Between 1985 and 1994, a total of 40 rhinos were captured for captive breeding including the seven and three sent to the United States and United Kingdom, respectively, from areas converted to plantations.

The historic range for Sumatran rhinoceros is from the foothills of the Himalayas in Bhutan and north-eastern India, through southern China (Yunnan), Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Viet Nam and the Malay Peninsula, and onto the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia.

Sumatran range map courtesy of The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Sumatran range map courtesy of The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Hairy rhinos live in tropical rainforest and montane moss forest, mainly in hilly areas near water sources. Males are primarily solitary, but can have overlapping territories with females, which are commonly found with their young. Their lifespan is estimated at about 35-40 years, gestation length of approximately 15-16 months, and age at sexual maturity estimated at 6-7 years for females and 10 years for males.

Significant threats to survival of this species include poaching and reduced population viability. Hunting is primarily driven by the demand for Traditional Asian Medicine that erroneously believes that rhino horns and other body parts have medicinal qualities. Centuries of over-hunting has reduced this species to a tiny percentage of its former population and range. As a result, breeding activity is infrequent, successful births are uncommon in many populations, and there is a severe risk of inbreeding. These circumstances necessitate this big move for Harry, who is symbolic of decades of cooperative conservation efforts among many dedicated scientists in multiple zoos.

Harapan is the only Sumatran rhino on view to the public anywhere in the world. Zoo visitors can find him in Wildlife Canyon daily from 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., weather permitting, until he leaves for Indonesia, the date for which has not yet been determined.





10 thoughts on “Harapan the Hairy Rhinoceros

    1. Hi. Thanks for commenting and believe me, I understand that perspective. What I do is remind myself that plenty of humans are also trying to prevent the extinction. Old beliefs die hard as motivation is a psychological process, not a logical one. Until the view that rhino horns are medicinal dies out, we’re going to have to keep up the fight. I fight by writing and one thing I really love writing about rhino horns is that they are made of keratin. Yep, anybody that eats rhino horns had might as well eat their own toenails. The ingredients are identical and equally ineffective in treating any medical condition. Spread the word.

      1. I will definitely spread the word. My only worry is how well those kept in captivity and sanctuaries will integrate back into the wild. I went to a zoo with my boyfriend a few weeks back when he was discussing this with me. He doesn’t think that most of the species that are critically endangered and being bred in captivity will ever survive well in the wild. Which made me real sad.

      2. I’ve studied extensively on this topic and even did my graduate thesis on the efforts of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums in conservations of species native to the U.S. and U.S. territories. Be of good hope. Many species have been successfully reintroduced to the wild. At the very least many wild animal populations have been supplemented with animals born and bred in captivity. Check out the Black-footed ferret, California Condor, Golden Lion tamarin to name a few. You should probably follow my blog http://www.thewhiskerchronicles.com as well. You seem to be very interested in conservation. There are a lot of reasons to have faith in humanity about this.

      3. The Golden Lion Tamarin is my most favourite animal! :’D Thank you Maymie, I will definately follow your blog. The state of the planet is one of the many things I am passionate about. I’m very glad to hear that. I haven’t heard much about anything sucessful from England. except for the reintroduction of the beaver up north but I’m not sure how well that’s going.

  1. Thank you! You’ve brought the story of these precious animals alive. I’m so impressed with the tireless efforts of people who are moving species out of the endangered slot. The real revolution will come when we overhaul our own ways of living. Stories like Harry’s should be our motivation.

    Bon voyage, Harry! May you have many new babies in your sanctuary.

  2. It’s so refreshing to hear positive news like this! I try not to be skeptical, but often it seems as though big business and corrupt governments (like the palm oil producers in Indonesia) are completely destroying the natural world.. And despite the widespread destruction that has occurred and the countless animals affected – there is hope that we can fix this predicament! With more and more individuals recognising that they are inextricably linked to the health of this planet and all of the animals on it, I’m hopeful that we can create a better world – a world based on cooperation with nature, rather than the domination of it.

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