Because there are so few Sumatran rhinoceros managed in captivity around the world, a group called the Global Management and Propagation Board or GMPB for the Sumatran rhino was formed a few years ago in order to bring all stakeholders together to truly manage the small and dispersed population at a global level. In March of this year, the second GMPB meeting was held in Bogor Indonesia and recommendations were made that will serve to maximize the success of these captive programs.
With all of the rhinos at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Way Kambas National Park in good health, this RCMP trip was focused on integrating the GMPB recommendations as part of the SRS program with a particular goal of moving the young male named Andalas into the SRS breeding program. On this visit, we were fortunate to receive the guidance of Mr. Steve Shurter, Director of Conservation at the White Oak Conservation Center. Steve was able to offer many useful suggestions to the SRS team about ways to facilitate the sometimes aggressive introductions that have characterized mixings of Andalas with the SRS females in the past. In particular, the socialization of Andalas to the other rhinos was considered essential. The process is simple: expose Andalas to as many of the female rhinos as possible so he learns to communicate with the rhinos long before they are put together for breeding purposes. This socialization process is being facilitated by feeding the rhinos their daily diets through the fence at the central breeding area. Our first introductions between Andalas and Ratu as well as those between Andalas and Bina have gone smoothly. The level of aggression has already declined and we think this will facilitate the mixing of animals that will soon follow. This regular exposure of male and female rhino will also help the team look for behavioral signs of estrus that may help them choose the proper timing for breeding. The regular use of ultrasound will also continue as it has proven quite successful in predicting the appropriate time for mixing.
It has been a wet and rainy season so far in 2009 so work on the second breeding area has been delayed. The rains are starting to taper off so work will begin soon. This second breeding area will be used to mix Torgamba with the young female Rosa as she begins to reach maturity.
Robin W. Radcliffe, DVM, DACZM
Rhino Conservation Medicine Program