Climate Action

As Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino dies, there are more species facing extinction due to habitat destruction

With habitat destruction due to human activity many species are threatened with extinction.

With habitat destruction due to human activity many species are threatened with extinction. Image: REUTERS/Supri

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate Crisis

  • Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino just died and fewer than 100 now remain in the wild across Asia.
  • habitat destruction, poaching and climate change are contributing to the loss of species around the world.
  • More than a quarter of all species face extinction.

The Sumatran rhino once roamed Asia. Today, fewer than 100 remain – and in fact, some estimates put the number as low as 30.

The last of the species in the country was a 25-year-old female named Iman, who died on the island of Borneo. Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino died earlier this year.

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Thinning distribution due to habitat destruction

Characterized by their small size and bristly hair, Sumatran rhinos are one of five rhino species alive today – and they are critically endangered.

With extensive habitat destruction the last remaining Sumatran rhinos are spread thin
With extensive habitat destruction the last remaining Sumatran rhinos are spread thin Image: WWF

The Sumatran rhino, by far the smallest of the living rhinoceros species, has plummeted in numbers as a result of habitat loss and poaching. However, the biggest threat it faces now is fragmented distribution. With limited opportunities to find a mate, the population continues to decline.

Efforts to breed the animals have proved largely unsuccessful, with just two captive animals reproducing in the last 15 years.

The Sumatran rhino is the most prehistoric of all rhinoceros species and is the most closely related to the now-extinct woolly rhino, which lived in Asia and Europe in the Ice Age. It's thought the woolly rhino declined rapidly 9,000 years ago due to a climate shift, and the species has struggled to return to full strength.

Across the globe, rhinoceros numbers are declining, and their prized horns have captured poachers’ eyes for decades. The Sumatran rhino’s cousin, The last male northern white rhino, a cousin of the Sumatran rhino, died in 2018 on a reserve in Kenya. In a bizarre twist, its digital form is now roaming a London art exhibition as part of a show called Eco-Visionaries, showcasing art about the climate emergency.

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More than 30,000 species are on the verge of extinction due to habitat destruction

There are, of course, many less well-known species on the verge of disappearing. For the most part, human interference and global warming are to blame. According to the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, more than 30,000 species are threatened with extinction – that’s 27% of all assessed species.

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The Mekong giant catfish is one species threatened with extinction due to sizeable habitat destruction
The Mekong giant catfish is one species threatened with extinction due to sizeable habitat destruction Image: IUCN Red List

Other critically endangered species include the Mekong giant catfish, which has been hit by habitat damage as well as pollution.

Impact of habitat destruction: Logging has driven the decline of the marmot.
Impact of habitat destruction: Logging has driven the decline of the marmot. Image: IUCN Red List

The cuter but equally threatened Vancouver Island marmot is down to just 90 and continuing to decline due to their natural habitat destruction.

Habitat loss is also driving Calumma Tarzan to extinction
Habitat loss is also driving Calumma Tarzan to extinction Image: IUCN Red List

Habitat destruction, particularly through logging and mining, is also affecting Madagascar’s critically endangered Calumma Tarzan, which is one of many reptiles threatened with extinction.

Habitat destruction of Wollemi pine trees, at any time, is an offence in Australia
Habitat destruction of Wollemi pine trees, at any time, is an offence in Australia Image: IUCN Red List

We shouldn’t forget that species loss extends to the plant kingdom, as well. One example is the Wollemi pine, which grows in Australia. It's also on the verge of disappearing.

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Climate ActionStakeholder CapitalismNature and Biodiversity
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