National Geographic News
Photo of Suci the rhino at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Suci, a critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, is shown here at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2013.

Photograph by Joel Sartore

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic

Published March 31, 2014

One of the world's last Sumatran rhinoceroses died Sunday at the Cincinnati Zoo, marking a "devastating blow" to her rapidly dwindling species, zoo officials said.

Suci, as she was known, hailed from the rarest of all rhino species. The Sumatran rhino numbers no more than a hundred animals in the wild, almost all of them on the Indonesian island of Sumatra (see map), and is possibly the most endangered large mammal on Earth.

Loss of habitat due to logging and palm oil agriculture, as well as poaching for its horn for use in traditional Asian medicines, have led to the animal's demise.

The Cincinnati Zoo was the first facility to successfully breed the critically endangered species in captivity. The zoo has been working with Indonesian organizations for 25 years in its efforts to bring the species back from the edge of extinction. (Read "Rhino Wars" in National Geographic magazine.)

After the death of Suci at age 10, only nine Sumatran rhinos are left in captivity worldwide. Sumatran rhinos in captivity live an average of 35 to 40 years, according to the World Wildlife Fund. (Read about Suci in a 2013 article in National Geographic magazine.)

The zoo had been treating Suci for hemochromatosis-a genetic disease that causes too much iron to accumulate in the body-for several months, but her condition rapidly deteriorated over the weekend. Suci's mother, Emi, died from the same illness in 2009.

"Suci was a symbol of hope for her entire species, one that is quickly losing ground in the wild, and her absence will leave a great hole in our hearts," said Terri Roth, director of the zoo's Lindner Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife.

"The international community has a great challenge on its hands," she said. "If we don't act quickly, and boldly, the loss of this magnificent animal will be among the great tragedies of our time."

"This Is How Extinction Happens"

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, who had photographed the 10-year-old animal since she was a baby, called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is how extinction happens," he said. "The animal is down to so few that each loss is so devastating.

"The Cincinnati Zoo has done a fantastic job with keeping this species going with little to work with in terms of number of animals," said Sartore, who shot the above photo.

Sartore featured Suci in his Photo Ark project, which is built around photographing endangered species in zoos. (See more of Sartore's work: "Stunning Pictures: Ten of the Rarest Animals on Earth.")

He said that Suci's death shows that "you can't protect the animals from everything."

The photographer remembers Suci as a "charming animal" that was docile and good-natured.

"As long as the food held out," he said, "she was there for you."

Follow Christine Dell'Amore on Twitter and Google .

19 comments
Jason Kreighbaum
Jason Kreighbaum

RIP Suci, I will remember you and the times that we shared at the Zoo.  You were one of my favorite animals there and I always looked forward to spending time at your exhibit whenever I visited the zoo.   You are deeply missed.

Aaron Camm
Aaron Camm

Can I just point out that Javan Rhinos are the most endangered rhino species, with only around 40 individuals left. Please Nat Geo stop publishing false information.

D Ram
D Ram

Ashamed to be a human

Sanju Simon
Sanju Simon

if human beings become extinct, then every animal can have the hope of survival on this earth...ashamed to be human.

Amanda Skinner
Amanda Skinner

Why were they breeding the mother rhino if they already knew she had a life threatening genetic illness? That seems really irresponsible of the zoo if conservation of this species is their true goal.

Solon Lechonitis
Solon Lechonitis

Very sad.Just read this sudden tragic News.RIP Suci.Solon



Deddy Hadinata
Deddy Hadinata

Stop the forest conversion to palm oil plantation!

Stop using all the products from palm oil!

We way stop the extinction of these wonderful creature.

Dwayne LaGrou
Dwayne LaGrou

It still amazes me that people are so short sighted and superstious about something that it basically a fingernail, And think it is a miracle cure! These animals have no chance as long as there is a market for their body parts. It's not just the horn either. And weather it's a Rhino or a Tiger or an Elephant, The killings must stop. What happens when we find out 30 or 40 years from now that because a particular animal is extinct we ruined our only chance to find a cure from something related to their existence. Weather it is something from them or some other virus or bacteria that they harbored. It's like that movie with Sean Connery "Medicine Man" where he discovers the cure for cancer is found in the ants that live in the rain forest canopy, But a crew building a road through the jungle kills them all because of their short sited ness.

STOP THE KILLINGS! It 's just not worth it in the long run!!!

Theo Nielsen
Theo Nielsen

@Aaron Camm  None the less it is still heartbreaking for both species, and all that are struggling. 

Mark Brackney
Mark Brackney

@Aaron Camm  Stop being so Damn harsh, Man, at Least they are giving A Crap.


Besides, are YOU trying to save an Endangered species?

David Whiting
David Whiting

@Aaron Camm

Yes the Javan rhinoceros has fewer individuals left but the for the most part live in protected areas. the Sumatran rhinos are more at risk due to their dwindling habitat and lack of overall protection.

Grant Choi
Grant Choi

@Amanda Skinner  that's like saying anyone with a genetic disease shouldn't have children... :[

Suci was 10, so she was born in 2004, her mother died of the disease five years later. It's possible that the zoo's didn't know she had the disease :\

P R
P R

When there are only 10 animals in captivity world wide, one cannot be too picky about which ones breed.

Grant Choi
Grant Choi

@Dwayne LaGrou Not that I condone the killing of animals for medicine, but I think it's unfair for you to criticize a foreign culture's traditions and write it off as superstitious... perhaps there's something in that "fingernail" that actually works, just like the example you gave of a cure for cancer being found in ants... highly hypocritical of you :\

MARTHA B.
MARTHA B.

@Dwayne LaGrou  Dwayne very well put..I pray during my own existence that greed will stop controlling mankind! I have never been motivated by money! One day they will see just how destructive to our own population they have been! Wildlife from the biggest to the smallest living creation have a direct connection to our own survival greed and seriously stupid people will cause extinction to our wonderful creatures!

Josh Mason
Josh Mason

@Fachri Ali @Deddy Hadinata Yes, the palm oil industry is presently exacerbating an already bad situation for wildlife, but herein lies a symptom rather than a cause. As difficult as it may be for scientists to acknowledge, wildlife conservation as a whole is failing miserably. This really shouldn't come as a surprise considering human population paired with middle-class consumerism has exponentially exploded over the last 30 years. If people are truly serious about species conservation, protection and proliferation before its too late, nothing less than radical thinking and action must be adopted now starting first with limiting consumption and population.

Dwayne LaGrou
Dwayne LaGrou

I disagree with this particular item because there have been detailed studies done on the ingredients in "Rhino horn" and they were very critical when they did it. And they found nothing in it could have any of the health benefits that were being said about it. I do realize that there are MANY ingredients that HAVE been found to be healthy from old passed down traditions, Such as Ginseng and things like that. But Rhino horn does not and has been scientifically proven.

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