A wildlife photographer has captured spectacular images of one of the last Sumatran rhinos left on Earth.
Joel Sartore, who has photographed more than 10,000 species around the globe as part of his Photo Ark project for National Geographic, snapped several photos of a Sumatran rhino named Pahu in Indonesia that have been released on September 22 in honor of World Rhino Day.
Pahu was born in the wild but Sartore photographed the animal at the Sumatran Rhino Rescue (SRR) program, where she has been brought to take part in an essential breeding program aimed at saving her species.
Official estimates suggest that there are fewer than 80 of these rhinos left in the wild—in isolated regions of Sumatra and Borneo—although this figure could even be as low as 30, according to some experts.
“I make it my mission to take photos like these to raise awareness of all creatures, but this one was special; with fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos left in the world, she’s the start of a breeding program that may help save the last of her kind,” Sartore told Newsweek. “The National Geographic Photo Ark gives animals the chance to be seen, and have their stories told, while there’s time to save them and their habitats.”
The individuals of this species that do remain mostly survive in small, fragmented, non-viable populations, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF.)
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Because of the low population figures, the non-profit says that there is a very small probability that breeding pairs will encounter one another in the wild—a problem exacerbated by the fact that aging females suffer with reproductive problems. As a result, it is thought that breeding among these rhino in the wild is “minimal” in most of their remaining range, with population of the species continuing to decline.
In addition, only two females have reproduced in captivity in the past 15 years, highlighting the critical nature of breeding efforts. Without intervention, the species could become extinct in a matter of decades, according to the International Rhino Foundation, one of the collaborators on the SRR program.
Experts and the Indonesian government agree that the only way to secure a long-term future for the Sumatran rhino is to relocate as many individuals of the species as possible to managed breeding facilities where they can be cared for and mate under supervision.
The long-term goal is to increase the population until a point in the future where some animals can be reintroduced into the wild.
“We have more than 22 years of experience maintaining and breeding Sumatran rhinos in captive settings. Using techniques first perfected at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, and later at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park, we are confident that this project can help to turn around the dire situation facing Sumatran rhinos,” Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation, said in a statement on their website.
Sumatran rhinos once roamed across a large portion of southern Asia—from the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas to the Malay Peninsula. However, a shift in the regional climate around 9,000 years ago caused significant declines, which have only been exacerbated by habitat loss and poaching for their horns, according to Save the Rhino International.
A National Geographic documentary “Photo Ark” featuring footage of Pahu premieres on October 17 and 24 at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT on Nat Geo WILD.
This article was updated to include comments from Joel Sartore, a National Geographic video and the documentary’s scheduled broadcast listing.