Issues: Genetic threat

Inbreeding and population reduction

Genetic loss is a problem that affects both Asian rhinos and Asian elephants. The Asian elephant is hunted for its tusk and since only males have tusks, this has meant that it is mainly male elephants that are poached. Most valuable elephant also the most threatened.

Large tuskers: important for genetic diversity but also for poachers
Large tuskers are usually wide-ranging and thus more likely to mate with females from different sub-populations and create genetically diverse offspring, but unfortunately, these are the individuals more likely to be poached.

Reduction in their numbers means that breeding males are usually closer family members. This can results in inbreeding, a lower birth rate and an ultimate reduction in population.

The problem of small, isolated populations
Another problem that is common to both rhinos and elephants is small and isolated populations.

Small isolated groups of animals means that there will be inbreeding and this can lead to a loss of genetic viability and possibly lower birth rate and survival. As a result, an isolated population may die out.

Several rhino populations, few individuals in each one
Many of the individual populations of the three species of Asian rhinos are comprised of very few individuals. The greater one horned rhino, even though much larger in total population size than the other two species, has only two populations that are above a hundred in number. There is only one Javan rhino population that is above 50 and no single Sumatran rhino population is estimated to be above 100 in numbers.

At the mercy of any catastrophe
This makes all the rhino species extremely vulnerable to extinction due to catastrophes, disease, poaching, political disturbances and genetic drift.

Still very much mysterious creatures
The biology of species like the Javan or the Sumatran rhino is poorly understood and techniques of estimating their numbers are also not fully developed.

Our solutions
WWF is working with its partners to survey these species using camera traps, faecal DNA and traditional surveys. WWF is also working with authorities in Nepal to boost rhino numbers in specific populations using translocation of rhinos to stock new habitats as a tool.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.