Conservation Actions

The species has been included on CITES Appendix I since 1975, and legally protected in all range states. An extensive international co-operative programme for the conservation of this species is being implemented with in situ activities being conducted in Indonesia and Malaysia. The primary objectives are to develop and deploy effective anti-poaching teams and to provide the co-ordination capacity to manage and sustain the programme. Rhino Protection Units (RPU) have been a force majeur in stopping poaching in Sumatra. Many organizations are involved with these units, including the Government of Indonesia (Sectionov and Waladi pers. comm.). The expansion and reinforcement of anti-poaching programmes is the top priority if this species is to survive.

There are also ongoing efforts to develop managed breeding centers for the species in Indonesia and Malaysia. There have been recent advances in captive breeding techniques for this species, including a successful births at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001 and 2004 (Khan et al., 2004). One of these offspring was transferred back to a breeding center in Sumatra.

There is a need for further surveys in northern Myanmar to determine the status of any remaining populations.

Location Information

The Sumatran rhinoceros once occurred 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 (Foose et al., 1997; Grubb, 2005). The species' precise historical range is indeterminate, as early accounts failed to distinguish rhinos to specific level, due to partial sympatry with the other two Asian rhino species (Rhinoceros sondaicus and Dicerorhinus sumatrensis).

The subspecies Dicerorhinus sumatrensis lasiotis formerly occurred in India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar (Nowak, 1999). The subspecies is extinct in the three former countries, but there is a possibility that populations remain in northern Myanmar.

The subspecies Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni formerly occurred throughout the island of Borneo. Currently, the species occurs only in Sabah (Malaysia), although a few individuals may still survive in Sarawak (Malaysia) and Kalimantan (Indonesia) (Meyaard, 1986).

Dicerorhinus sumatrensis sumatrensis formerly occurred in Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, and Sumatra (Indonesia). Presently, the subspecies occurs only in parts of Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia (Foose et al., 1997).

It occurs from sea level to over 2,500 m asl.

Population Information

The total population is estimated at fewer than 275 individuals, though probably more than 220. Until the early 1990's the numbers continued to decline at a rapid rate with estimated losses of 50% or more of the population per decade (Foose and van Strien 1997). Over the last decade the decrease has been halted or slowed in most of the larger populations because of better protection, but animals are still being lost in the small remnant populations.

The subspecies Dicerorhinus sumatrensis sumatrensis now occurs mainly on Sumatra, where there are 170 to 230 individuals. It has its largest populations remaining in Bukit Barisan Selata, Way Kambas, and Gunung Leuser National Park (Foose et al., 1997). There are about 60 to 80 animals in Gunung Leuser, about 60 to 80 Bukit Barisan Selatan, and 15-25 in Way Kambas, with some local reports of rhinos occurring outside of protected areas in Aceh Province (Sectionov and Waladi pers. comm.). There are also a few small, non-viable populations, including no more than a few individuals in Kerinci-Seblat National Park. Some populations are decreasing due to poaching, with very steep decreases in some areas (Sectionov and Waladi pers. comm.). Poaching has ceased in Bukit Barisan Selata and Way Kambas National Parks recently (Sectionov and Waladi pers. comm.). Populations in Peninsular Malaysia are now very small, but the species possibly survives in Taman Negara National Park and in Tamon Besor/Belum area. It probably no longer survives in Endau Rompin National Park (Malaysia).

The majority of the few remaining individuals of the subspecies Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni occur in Tabin National Park in Sabah (Malaysia), with some also in the Danum Valley (also in Sabah). The total population in Sabah is likely to be about 50 individuals (Han pers. comm.). A two year survey from 2000-2002 indicated 6 known individuals, 10 probable individuals, and an additional 35 possible (Van Strien, 2005).

The population status of the subspecies Dicerorhinus sumatrensis lasiotis is unknown, with the very slight possibility that a small number of individuals survive in the Lassai Tract in Myanmar.

There are over 20 animals in captivity, mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia, with a few in the United States.


The two principal threats are poaching and reduced population viability. Hunting is primarily driven by the demand for the supposedly medicinal properties of rhino horns and other body parts, and many centuries of over-hunting has reduced this species to a tiny percentage of its former population and range. The species is now so reduced that there are very small numbers in each locality where it still survives. As a result, breeding activity is infrequent, successful births are uncommon in many populations, and there is a severe risk of inbreeding depression (J. Payne pers. comm.). The species is frequently stated to be sensitive to habitat disturbance (van Strien, 1986), but timber extraction is of little or no significance to the species, as it is robust enough to withstand more or less any forest condition (J. Payne pers. comm.).


IUCN Red List Account Link

Please click here to see the species' IUCN Red List Account page.

Photo Credits

Dedi Candra (category image)

Stephen Belcher/ (featured image)