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Sumatran Rhinoceros

Facts

  • Scientific name: Dicerorhinus sumatrensis
  • Habitat: Historically the forests and swamps of Asia
  • Conservation status: Critically endangered
  • Cause of decline: Primarily illegal poaching
  • Fun fact: They live in isolation except to mate!

Additional source: Wikipedia

Image source: Smithsonian

Evolution requires trade-offs. In the case of large mammals, they have traveled down the evolutionary path that has led to such a size that they have ceased to be preyed upon. The flipside of their size is that they have such a slow life stage, not reaching sexual maturity for often many years. Slow reproduction and development rate for the sake of being too big to hunt. A perfectly successful path until we showed up. So what has changed this time?

Well, for us, they are not too big to hunt. Especially with the advent of modern technology (post-industrial revolution), it has become easier than shooting fish in a barrel. Poaching and overhunting has devastated countless large mammal populations from elephants and rhinos to America’s bison. In the case of the Sumatran Rhino, there are likely fewer than 80 or so left in the wild. And we are left struggling to help them reproduce in captivity. The biggest issue is that evolution doesn’t allow for them to turn around and go down the “quickly reproduce over size” path.

Around the world, megafauna are in peril as modern man cripples their populations, and their evolutionary tradeoff that they’ve lived with for thousands of years with no problems, comes to bite them in the ass. They simply cannot reproduce fast enough or easily enough for the population to rebound. Our selfishness without a thought in the world for the future of the species or the ecosystem has brought us to the point where we desperately await the ultrasound of a rhino to indicate a successful pregnancy. Are we too late?

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