The last Sumatran rhino in the Western Hemisphere is leaving the U.S. for Indonesia, where he will play a major role in a captive breeding program for the critically-endangered species.
Harapan — a 1,800-pound, 8-year-old male — will make his 10,000-mile trip from the Cincinnati Zoo to a breeding facility in the Way Kambas National Park of Indonesia. The journey will require the rare rhino to travel by air, land, and sea over the course of 50 hours.
The unusual move for such a large and rare animal also requires special training, multiple permits, and coordination between governments.
An estimated 100 of Harapan’s species remain in the world, with just nine kept in captivity. The Cincinnati Zoo's 25-year breeding program has yielded three rhino calves.
"Despite the great personal sadness so many of us feel — both about Harapan leaving and Cincinnati Zoo’s Sumatran rhino breeding program coming to an end — we need to focus on all we have accomplished, for there is much to celebrate," Terri Roth, director of the zoo’s Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife, said at a news conference. "The Cincinnati Zoo has had a profound, historic impact on the effort to save this species."
Commonly referred to as "hairy rhinos," the descendants of the Ice Age wooly rhinoceros are born with a dense covering that turns reddish brown in young adults and eventually black and sparse.
Adults can reach up to roughly 2,000 pounds, but remain relatively stout, growing just 3 to 5 feet tall.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, Sumatran rhino once roamed as far away as the Eastern Himalayas in Bhutan and eastern India, through Myanmar, Thailand, and possibly to Vietnam and China. Two subspecies, the western Sumatran and eastern Sumatran, cling for survival on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
A third subspecies is believed to be extinct.
Harapan is the only Sumatran rhino living outside Southeast Asia, according to the Cincinnati Zoo. Now sexually mature, Harapan will have a shot at propagating his nearly extinct species.
"Though the numbers are frighteningly low, Sumatran rhinos still exist in the forests of Sumatra, we believe there is still time to save them and we are by no means giving up that fight now," Roth said in a statement. "Ultimately, the responsibility for saving this magnificent species now lies squarely on the shoulders of our Indonesian colleagues."
An exact date for Harapan’s departure has not been set, but zoo officials are pushing for sometime in the fall.