Price of distinction

Published: Saturday 15 February 1997

for a section of the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, survival is extra tough because they differ from their cousins. dna tests have revealed that about 70 Sumatran rhinos -- shaggy animals unlike other rhinos -- living on the islands of Borneo are different from other members of the species, suggesting that they lived in isolation for thousands of years. This would hamper efforts by conservationists to breed these rhinos with their relatives from Sumatra or the Malay peninsula.

But scientists say that the future of these rhinos is so bleak that differences should be ignored and all of the species' populations should be regarded as a single conservation unit. However, Don Melnick, an evolutionary geneticist at the Centre for Environmental Research and Conservation at Columbia, us, believes that interbreeding Bornean rhinos with relatives from Sumatra or the Malay peninsula would produce offspring ill-suited to survive and reproduce in the wild.

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