Christmas miracle – healthy female rhino found in Tabin


LAHAD DATU: There was Christmas joy in the jungle yesterday as a healthy young female Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni) was safely translocated within the Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR).

The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) and the SWD’s special Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) captured the rhino, named Puntung, in a joint operation.

“This is a fantastic gift for our uphill battle in ensuring the survival of this truly unique species and wonderful timing with Christmas, a time to give thanks for our blessings,” said an elated Dr Laurentius Ambu, the director of SWD.

Capturing and translocating Puntung was done after months of observation and careful logistical planning to ensure her safety by the dedicated field staff of SWD, BORA and WRU.

“We have monitored her since 2007, and there is no sign that any other rhino has entered into her range in the past five years. This is a stark indication that so few rhinos remain that they are simply not meeting for reproduction,” elaborated Datuk Dr Junaidi Payne, executive director of BORA.

Puntung had been specifically targeted since early 2010 as the mate for a middle-aged, lone male rhino named Tam, who was rescued from an oil palm plantation in August 2008 and cared for since then in the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary (BRS).

“We know all too well that Sumatran rhinoceros is on the brink of extinction with only definite signs of breeding in the wild over the past decade in Sabah and on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. However, this rate is still far too low to ensure its survival which is why we have initiated this captive breeding programme,” said Payne.

A key component of the State Action Plan to ensure the continued existence of the Sumatran rhino in Sabah includes captive breeding of the rhinos within a large enclosed area covering 20 hectares of natural forest located within TWR.  This area is now known as the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary (BRS) and is managed by the State Government.

The BRS Programme is also in touch with a similar programme underway in Sumatra, Indonesia. While all possible efforts are being made to ensure that natural breeding is prioritised, advanced reproductive technologies, some yet to be developed, will be needed to boost the number of Sumatran rhinos being born as well.

“This is now the very last chance to save this species, one of the most ancient forms of mammal. We need collaboration and support in our efforts to prevent the extinction of this unique species that was once found in abundance,” said Ambu.

Ambu also commended the Sime Darby Foundation and the WWF for providing funding support and the Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Berlin) for technical assistance on rhino reproduction.

He also praised the commitment of all three teams as they are expected to be working throughout the holidays to ensure that Puntung’s safety and well-being as she adjusts to her new surroundings.

“The Wildlife Rescue Unit Rangers are also here in Tabin working tirelessly with BORA and SWD rangers in making sure that Puntung is well taken care of and remains in good health,” said Ambu.

He also thanked the Malaysian Oil Palm Council and the Shangri-La Rasa Ria for funding and supporting SWD’s WRU which acts as the rapid action force his department.

“The success of this undertaking today was a small part of the bigger group of government, non-government and institutes working together to ensure the survival of the Sumatran rhino. This cannot be done alone by one agency and we are thankful to have such support,” said Ambu.

Since 1996, the Sumatran rhino has been listed as being critically endangered, which is one step away from extinction in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List.