Scientists have sequenced the genome of the Sumatran rhinoceros, which is on the verge of going extinct.
The endangered Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerrorhinus sumatrensis) is the smallest of the five rhino species and is one of the three species native to Asia. It is a plant-eating browser that belongs to the order Perissodactyla. The animal has several unique features that set it apart from the other rhinos such as two deep skin folds encircling the body between the legs and the trunk, and its thick pelage of short stiff hairs.
According to the US team who conducted the research, the rhino population began to decline during the last Ice Age, when it’s habitat shrunk.
“This species has been well on its way to extinction for a very long time,” states Terri Roth, study researchers with the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
Lead researcher of the study, Dr. Herman Mays of Marshall University in West Virginia, claims that the decline of the Sumatran Rhinoceros was prevalent during the Pleistocene era.
The Pleistocene is a geological time period was the world most recent Ice Age and is believed to have lasted from 2.588 thousand to 11.700 thousand years ago.
The genome sample was taken from Ipuh, a popular Sumatran rhinoceros, at the Cincinnati Zoo. Based on Ipuh’s genome, researchers discovered that the animal population approached 60 thousand individuals about 1 million years ago.
When the Pleistocene ended, Sumatran rhinos lost much of their natural habitat which in turn triggered a population decline that continued for 3 thousand years until it was sped up by climate change.
Mays states that the Rhino never quite recovered from the events.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature listed the species, which is confined mainly to Sumatra, has ‘Critically Endangered’. The IUCN states that the extinction event has been accelerated due to over-hunting for the rhino’s horn as well as other medicinal products.
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