(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Looking to save the critically-endangered Sumatran rhinoceros species, which descended from woolly rhinos of the Ice Age, Cincinnati Zoo scientists are trying to mate their lone female Sumatran rhino with her younger brother.
The act of breeding desperation resulted from a recent summit in Singapore, where conservationists determined only about 100 of the two-horned, hairy creatures may remain in their natural habitats in southeast Asia.
The Sumatran rhino population has plummeted by as much as 90 percent since the mid-1980s. As development has destroyed their native habitats, poachers have sought them for their prized horns.
A pioneer in breeding the rhino species, the zoo produced the first three Sumatrans born in captivity in modern times and now is seeking to mate the youngest, 6-year-old Harapan, who has been living at the Los Angeles Zoo, with his biological sister, 8-year-old Suci, who is still in Cincinnati.
"We absolutely need more calves for the population as a whole. We have to produce as many as we can as quickly as we can," said Terri Roth, who heads the zoo's Center for Research of Endangered Wildlife, reported The Associated Press. "The population is in sharp decline and there's a lot of urgency around getting her pregnant."
Critics of captive breeding programs assert they can create animals less likely to survive in the wild, with inbreeding increasing the possibility of offspring with bad genetic combinations.
"We don't like to do it, and long term, we really don't like to do it, [but] when your species is almost gone, you just need animals and that matters more than genes right now - these are two of the youngest, healthiest animals in the population," explained Roth, who added that the siblings' parents, both of whom have died, were genetically diverse.
The first coordinated attempt to breed Sumatrans in captivity began in the 1980s, with about half the initial 40 breeding rhinos dying without a successful pregnancy. Roth, who began working on the rhino project in 1996, said it took years just to understand their eating habits and needs, and decades more to understand their mating patterns, The Associated Press reported.
Sumatran rhinos generally appear not to be interested in companionship, not to mention romance.