Mourning Iman: Malaysia’s Last Sumatran Rhino

November 23, 2019

Strasburg, VA – Iman, a female Sumatran rhino, died today at the age of 25 in Sabah, Malaysia following a long illness. Iman was rescued in 2014 and brought to the Borneo Rhino Alliance. There she received around the clock care from her dedicated keepers and veterinary staff.

Iman was the last remaining Sumatran rhino in Malaysia. “We are saddened by today’s news and on behalf of the International Rhino Foundation, we offer condolences to the Government of Sabah and our colleagues at the Borneo Rhino Alliance team on their loss,” said Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation.

Conservationists had hoped Iman could be bred naturally with Tam; a male Sumatran rhino captured in 2008. But Tam did not have high quality sperm and Iman had a uterine tumor, detected when she was captured, which prevented conception. Tam passed away earlier in 2019.

Genetic material from both Iman and Tam have been saved and conservationists hope someday, once the technology is in place, to convert these cells into viable embryos that could be transplanted into surrogate rhinos.

“There is limited knowledge about Sumatran rhino reproductive physiology and converting cells in a laboratory into viable embryos is complex,” said Ellis. “Still, there is hope for the survival of Sumatran rhinos.”

For several decades, Sumatran rhinos have been devastated across their range by poaching to feed illegal trade in horn for Asian markets.  The species is likely now the most endangered large mammal on Earth, with declines of more than 70 percent in the past 20 years.

In Sabah, logging, which decimated the region’s rainforests, followed closely by extensive development of palm oil plantations, also was a contributing factor. Like Sabah, Sumatra also has seen massive deforestation and rain forest fragmentation, pushing Sumatran rhinos, tigers, elephants, and orangutans to the brink of extinction despite ongoing protection.

Indonesia now holds the only remaining Sumatran rhinos on Earth, which number less than 80 individuals. Three small, isolated populations exist on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, plus a tiny handful of animals in Indonesian Borneo. Remaining populations are heavily guarded by anti-poaching units, but despite protection, numbers continue to decline.

In 2017, the Government of Indonesia developed a Sumatran Rhino Emergency Action Plan, and in 2018, IRF and partners formed the Sumatran Rhino Rescue project, with plans to rescue rhinos and bring those with reproductive potential into large, semi-natural breeding and research facilities like the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS), a 250-acre facility built by IRF in partnership with local NGO Yayasan Badak Indonesia, which translates to the Indonesian Rhino Foundation, to increase population numbers.

The SRS is home to the only reproductively viable captive Sumatran rhinos in the world.  The facility currently houses seven resident rhinos, three males and four females, including a male and female that were birthed there.

An expansion of the SRS this year doubled the sanctuary’s holding capacity for rhinos, improved security and expanded the infrastructure of the facility. This expansion enables the rescue of additional Sumatran rhinos and supports breeding to increase wild populations.

For more information on IRF and efforts to save the Sumatran rhino, please visit


  • There are fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild, disperse across ten small sub-populations. Some of these sub-populations are so small (pockets of two or three animals) that they will eventually disappear.
  • Female Sumatran rhinos suffer from reproductive pathologies; as they grow older and if they do not breed, they are inclined to develop tumors and cysts in their reproductive organs, making it harder to bring a pregnancy to full term
  • A rhino pregnancy lasts approximately 16 months
  • Due to the fact that the species is scattered across isolated, small populations, a new program, responding to the Government of Indonesia’s Emergency Action Plan on Sumatran Rhinos, seeks to capture the small populations and bring them into conservation breeding programs, including the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park. The goal is to significantly increase the captive population, with hopes of releasing animals back into the wild. A similar program with the California condor, whose population was reduced to 27 individuals, has brought that species to over 400 living in captivity and the wild. For more on this program:
  • The Sumatran rhino is the smallest of all the rhino species. They are also the hairiest, with fringed ears and reddish-brown skin.
  • Sumatran rhinos as solitary animals, living deep in the forests of Indonesia.

For more on Sumatran rhinos: