Just a couple of weeks after the astonishing announcement that biologists working in Borneo had made contact with the first Sumatran rhino in the Indonesian portion of the island in 40 years, things have taken a tragic turn. Wildlife experts have unfortunately announced that the rhino, of which fewer than 100 are thought to survive in the wild, has died.
“Our hearts are saddened by this devastating news from Kalimantan,” wrote the International Rhino Foundation on their Facebook page. “There are many lessons to be learned from this event.”
It is thought that the young female, named Najaq, suffered from a severe leg infection, which she succumbed to after a few days of illness. How she got the infection is not yet known, and is something that the researchers hope to answer after a post-mortem is carried out on the animal, although early reports suggest she might have incurred it from a snare before she was caught.
It was hoped that the female, thought to be between 4 and 5 years old, would form the first block of a breeding population at a newly established Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary located 150 kilometers (93 miles) from where the wild population cling on. This would then provide a back-up for if anything were to happen to those still roaming the forests. Najaq was caught using a pit trap, which has been previously used to successfully capture Sumatran rhinos before. It is favored over drugging the animals because it eliminates the threat of drowning if the rhino passes out on boggy or swampy ground.
It had been thought for a long time that the species was extinct in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. Then in 2013, researchers studying orangutans stumbled across rhino footprints. This led to a team of government officials and NGOs working in the area to set up camera traps in the region, which confirmed that there were around 15 of the animals living in at least two separate populations. At the time of the discovery, the team said they planned on relocating one of the populations due to its worrying proximity to agricultural land and mining operations.
The researchers want to learn from the tragic end to the diminutive rhino, and attempt to bring into captivity the remaining few animals that are still dwelling dangerously close to industrial activities.