CINCINNATI (AP) — An Ohio zoo began the countdown Thursday for anyone wanting to see the last Sumatran rhino in the Western Hemisphere, before he is sent to Southeast Asia on a mission to mate and help preserve his critically endangered species.
The Cincinnati Zoo announced that Oct. 29 will be the last chance for visitors to see Harapan, one of only an estimated 100 left in the world.
Zoo officials said Harapan has undergone medical examinations and been trained to walk into and voluntarily remain in a specially made travel crate for the flight to Indonesia, where nearly all of the remaining Sumatran rhinos live.
Numbers of the two-horned "hairy rhinos," descendants of Ice Age wooly rhinos, have fallen by some 90 percent since the mid-1980s as development of their forest habitat and poachers seeking their prized horns took their toll. Including three Sumatran rhinos in a sanctuary in Malaysia, only nine are in captivity globally.
The zoo isn't planning to make public the travel date for the estimated 30-hour flight, which doesn't include time for layovers along the way. Harapan will be accompanied by a veteran animal keeper and a veterinarian.
The 8-year-old rhino will join his older brother Andalas, who has successfully mated at the Sumatran rhino sanctuary and lives with three females and his one male offspring born in 2012. Harapan's departure will end the Cincinnati Zoo's captive breeding program for the species that produced three rhinos.
"No one wants to see Harry go," Terri Roth, director of the zoo's Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife, said in a statement. "We're attached, to say the least. We also know that giving him the opportunity to breed in Sumatra is the right thing to do for the species."
Harapan's and Andalas' sister, Suci, died from illness last year at the zoo, after the Cincinnati conservationists had discussed trying to mate the siblings in a desperation move and brought Harapan back from the Los Angeles Zoo.
Indonesian officials are anxious to get Harapan to their sanctuary in his ancestral homeland. They have said they don't want to be dependent on other countries in conservation efforts by sending rhinos to be bred abroad, but welcome technological or scientific assistance for their breeding program.
Conservationists and government officials met in Singapore in 2013 for a Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit to discuss increasing action to protect the species.
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