Endangered species: The last animals of their kind

Posted May 9, 2014
What are the rarest creatures in the world? This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer, but there are a few likely contenders, finds Rachel Nuwer.

Excerpt from article on BBC.com by Rachel Nuwer

Although she didn’t let on that anything was wrong, by the time the leaves began to change Suci’s keepers knew she was in trouble. The Sumatran rhino had dropped too much weight over the summer. By December, she had stopped playing with her toys and became even more reclusive and lethargic.

For nearly a decade, her keepers at Cincinnati Zoo had watched her grow. They had big plans for her. Suci, whose very name means ‘sacred individual’ in Indonesian, was to be a saviour of her species. There are only around 100 Sumatran rhinos left, so a plan was hatched to mate Suci with her brother Harapan to increase their species’ count. But now, she had iron storage disease, a condition that also killed her mother.

Hope that she would pull through came to an end one Sunday in March. Her keepers noticed that she was behaving oddly that day, so stayed with her into the night, and watched as she slipped away.

“I don’t know of anyone who’s tried as hard as we did to cure a rhino of this disease,” says Terri Roth, director of the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. But still, she says, “You can’t help but feel responsible that you were not able to save this animal.” Suci, she explains, was one of the few promising females left for breeding. Others are too old or haven’t been able to get pregnant. Even wild females are turning up infertile.

“Animals die, animals get injured,” says Roth. “But when you’re down to 100, it’s far more than an emotional loss.”

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