Iman, Malaysia's Last Sumatran Rhino, Dies

Experts estimate that fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos remain on Earth, most of them in Indonesia.

Malaysia’s last living Sumatran rhino, a 25-year-old female named Iman, died on Saturday ― marking yet another grim milestone for the ultra-rare species, which now only survives in tiny numbers mostly in Indonesia.

National Geographic estimates that fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos remain on Earth. The critically endangered species, known for the long hair that covers their bodies, are the smallest of the living rhinoceroses, and are more closely related to the extinct woolly rhino than the other rhino species alive today, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Habitat destruction and poaching have accelerated their march toward extinction.

Iman, who lived at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in the Malaysian state of Sabah, died of complications from cancer, Malaysian officials said.

“Iman’s death came rather sooner than we had expected, but we knew that she was starting to suffer significant pain,” Augustine Tuuga, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, told Reuters.

Before her death, Iman, who’d lived at the sanctuary since 2014, had reportedly received the best possible medical care and comforts.

“No one could have done more,” Christina Liew, Sabah’s environment minister, said in a statement.

Iman officially became Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino earlier this year following the death of Tam, the country’s last male Sumatran rhino.

Tam, who’d lived in the same sanctuary as Iman but never successfully mated with her, died of old age in May, his caretakers said. Tam had been in his 30s, considered old for a species with a lifespan of about 35 to 40 years.

Iman the Sumatran rhino pictured in August with Christina Liew, Sabah's environment minister. Iman died on Saturday of c
Iman the Sumatran rhino pictured in August with Christina Liew, Sabah's environment minister. Iman died on Saturday of complications from cancer.

Four of the world’s five living rhino species are considered vulnerable or critically endangered.

The world’s last male northern white rhino died in Kenya last year, and in order to save the subspecies, conservationists have since turned to a controversial last-ditch plan: in vitro fertilization.

Malaysian officials said this week that they’re considering employing similar technology in hopes of saving the Sumatran rhino from extinction. 

“There is limited knowledge about Sumatran rhino reproductive physiology, and converting cells in a laboratory into viable embryos is complex,” Susie Ellis, executive director of the U.S.-based International Rhino Foundation, told The Washington Post of the IVF plan.

“Still,” Ellis added, “there is hope for the survival of Sumatran rhinos.”