Cincinnati Zoo Mourns Death of Old Endangered Sumatran Rhino

Posted February 18, 2013
Sumatran Rhino Ipuh

CINCINNATI – (February 18, 2013) The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is mourning the loss of one of the world’s most famous endangered Sumatran rhinos – “Ipuh.”   The male rhino, who was believed to be at least 33 years old, has lived at the Cincinnati Zoo for the past 22 years and sired three calves, Andalas (2001), Suci (2004) and Harapan (2007). In 2001, years of breakthrough research by scientists at the Zoo’s Lindner Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) resulted in the first birth of a Sumatran rhino in human care since the 19th century.  Since then, Ipuh sired more offspring than any other Sumatran rhino in zoos, making him the most prolific male Sumatran rhino in human care in history.  Just this past year, Ipuh became a grandfather when his first-born calf, Andalas, became a father at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia. 

In December 2012, the Cincinnati Zoo’s Animal Care Staff first noticed Ipuh was moving stiffly and slowly during the mornings when keepers would first enter his barn.  Since these symptoms are common in aging animals (and humans) it was noted but not considered too unusual.  However in late January, keepers began to notice that Ipuh was not eating all of his food overnight, which was unusual, and his ability to stand and move continued to decline despite the veterinary staff’s best efforts to medicate him.  Because Ipuh’s condition continued to deteriorate, on Monday, Zoo staff made the difficult and humane decision to euthanize him.

“It is always devastating when a beloved animal reaches the end of its life, especially one whose amazing history makes him so special,” said Dr. Terri Roth, Director of the Cincinnati Zoo’s CREW. “He literally turned a failing zoo breeding program for his critically endangered species into an international success. Our hope is that we can honor him by continuing to build on the legacy that Ipuh left behind, through his sons and daughters, as well as the scientific advancements that he contributed to in life.”

Thankfully, due to years of research conducted by CREW scientists, Ipuh’s contributions to his species do not have to cease with his death.  CREW has successfully developed the technique to harvest and cryopreserve rhino sperm post-mortem.  Furthermore, last year CREW developed an artificial insemination protocol for Sumatran rhinos.   Therefore, not only will his calves and their offspring continue to provide hope for his species, but Ipuh himself may continue to sire calves even after his death.

“Moments like these highlight the importance of CREW’s work,” said Dr. Terri Roth. “CREW’s high-tech, science-based approach produces more options for helping to save critically endangered species, and right now, every possible option is required for saving the Sumatran rhino.”

The Cincinnati Zoo and the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia have been working together for more than a decade and are the only two places in the world successfully breeding this critically endangered species in zoos. One of two of the Sumatran rhinos living in the United States, eight-year-old Suci, still resides at the Cincinnati Zoo. Five-year old Harapan is growing up at the LA Zoo. Ipuh was sent to the U.S. by the Indonesian government as part of a cooperative agreement developed between Indonesia and four U.S. zoos (Cincinnati, Bronx, Los Angeles and San Diego).

Considered the most endangered of all rhino species and perhaps the most endangered mammal species on earth, it is estimated that at least 50 percent of the Sumatran rhino population has been lost in the last two decades. The primary cause is conversion of rhino habitat for agriculture, even in some national parks, and poaching for its horn which some Asian cultures believe contains medicinal properties. Today, there are only ten Sumatran rhinos living in zoosworldwide and fewer than 200 wild rhinos, most in isolated forests on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia but a few rhinos still exist in Sabah, Malaysia. Sumatran rhino longevity is unknown but Ipuh was believed to be one of the oldest on record prior to his death.  .

The Cincinnati Zoo is working closely with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, the Indonesian Rhino Foundation, the IUCN Asian Rhino Specialist Group and the International Rhino Foundation, to protect this species in the wild, and also propagate Sumatran rhinos in zoos. Both approaches will be necessary to secure the future of this critically endangered species for future generations.

“This is a sad day, not only for all of us here at the Cincinnati Zoo, but for the rhino community around the world,” said Thane Maynard, Director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. “Any time an animal as critically endangered as a Sumatran rhino passes away, it is a genuine loss to the Earth’s biodiversity.  What Ipuh did for his species will forever be an example of what scientific achievement and charismatic animals can do when they combine forces.  Ipuh lived a big life, and he will be missed by all who knew and worked with him”