In late March 2016, World Wildlife Fund researchers celebrated the reappearance of the incredibly rare Sumatran rhino.

Image from International Rhino Foundation/WIkimedia Commons.


On March 12, 2016, a female Sumatran rhino was captured in a pit trap in the East Kalimantan province of Indonesian Borneo. It was the first time in 40 years that one had been seen in the flesh.

The World Wildlife Fund called her story a "new hope."

Just one month later, the celebration ended abruptly when the captured Sumatran rhino, named Najaq, has died.


A leg infection seems to have been the cause of death, although a post-mortem is still being conducted as of this writing.

Though Najaq's death is sad, there is good news to share.

For a long time, it was thought there were no more Sumatran rhinos in Kalimantan. There were only a small population on the Malaysian side of the island (declared extinct in 2015), so many people thought these animals were just about gone forever.

But we were wrong. And that's very, very good.

Unlike its more sparsely coiffed cousins, the Sumatran rhino is covered in hair. Image from Ltshears/Wikimedia Commons.

Sumatran rhinos are one of the most endangered large animals on the planet. There are estimated to be fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild.

In fact, up until 2013, when a World Wildlife Fund team found rhino footprints in the jungle (and managed to photograph a Sumatran rhino via an automatic camera trap), the species was considered extinct in Kalimantan.

We now know that at least 15 Sumatran rhinos still exist in Borneo.

15 is not a lot, but for an animal thought to be gone, it's a remarkable number.

Even better — we know how save them.

Sumatran rhinos, like many species in Borneo, are threatened by both poachers and habitat loss. They need the forests and jungles to survive, but many wild places are being destroyed to make room for mining, plantations, and logging operations.


This land was cleared for a palm oil plantation in Malaysian Borneo. Image from T. R. Shankar Raman/Wikimedia Commons.

By creating sanctuaries for these animals we can give them the homes they need to survive.

Sanctuaries like Way Kamblas National Park, for instance. Way Kamblas is a protected area in Sumatran Indonesia that is home to a number of Sumatran rhinos that are protected by their own anti-poaching squad.

A worker and Rosa the rhino, who was transported to Way Kamblas to help establish a breeding population. Image via Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images.

What's more, by supporting the use of sustainable palm oil (which is used in more products you every day than you can even imagine), which many companies are already doing, we can help protect the forests outside of these designated sanctuaries.

Najaq's death is sad, but we're being given an incredible opportunity to save a species once thought to be lost.

“We now have proof that a species once thought extinct in Kalimantan still roams the forests, and we will now strengthen our efforts to protect this extraordinary species,” said Dr. Efransjah, CEO of WWF-Indonesia, when they found Najaq in the pit trap.


Rosa the rhino in the Way Kambas Sanctuary. Image from Willem v Strien/Flickr.

Najaq may have died, but her life truly did give a new hope to the preservation of her species.

We have the opportunity. We know what to do. We just need to act.

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