Thursday, February 09, 2012

Programme aims to prevent Sumatran rhino extinction in Sabah

LAHAD DATU: A female Borneo Sumatran rhino limps alone daily across the jungle.

She wakes up, searches for food, scratches her back on trees, trumpets her happiness, then dips for hours in her favourite wallow, before going back to her den to end the day.

Puntung, which means ‘stump’ in English, is the name given to this animal, one of the last rhinos of her type alive.

She lost her front left foot when she was an infant and for many years endured a lot of pain, injuries and bruises from passing through complicated areas in the jungle.

Since 2007, she has attracted the interest of Borneo Sumatran rhino rescuers, namely Sabah Wildlife Department, Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) and their strategic partner, Sime Darby Foundation.

Since Christmas day last year, Puntung has found a new home in Borneo Rhino Sanctuary (BRS), not far from where she used to live.

BRS is a programme by Sabah state government, located in Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR), with aims to prevent extinction of the Sumatran rhinoceros, especially by increasing the number of rhino births.

Puntung the survivor

Today, three Borneo Sumatran rhinoceros are protected at BRS, two nons, (female) named Puntung and Gelogob, and a bull (male) named Tam.

All of them have endured tragic histories in the wild.

The species, totally protected by law, is among the most endangered in the world.

Only around 150 of them are left in Sumatra (Indonesia) and less than 40 in Borneo, mostly in Sabah.

“Puntung is our latest member of the sanctuary following her capture from the wild last December after three years of monitoring,” said Bora chairman Dr Abdul Hamid Ahmad.

Although Puntung was actually safe in the wild as she roamed within the TWR area, Bora executive director Dr Junaidi @ John Payne said no other rhino had entered her range since 2007, leaving her alone and therefore unable to breed.

“There’s a desperate need to ensure breeding happens to avoid extinction.

“Once we found Tam to be fertile in 2009, we decided to capture Puntung in early 2010 to become his mate, as Gelogob was found to be unable to breed,” he added.

The capture of Puntung happened in December 2011, 22 months after the decision was taken.

Upon her arrival at BRS, she was immediately cleaned, fed and examined to determine her health condition.

The terminal bone of the stumped leg were found to be missing, a sure sign that it was ripped off by snare trap when she was an infant.

Miraculously, somehow she cheated death, and is now well and healthy.

“Simply said, Puntung is our new hope to avoid the extinction of our natural heritage,” said Dr Payne.

The real threat

It is estimated that at least 60 per cent of the Borneo Sumatran rhino population has been lost in the last two decades.

This species also lost its prime habitat in the lowlands due to human exploration, besides being hunted for its horn, normally used in traditional Chinese medicine. The price of the horn can reach US$30,000 per kilogramme.

Massive hunting has reduced the rhino population from 1,000 to its number (and declining) today. As result, they are now in danger of extinction.

Today, land exploration or hunting do not pose as much threat as before, but a new threat has arisen.

There are not enough fertile rhinos left in the wild today. With a small population scattered across the Borneo jungles, the chance of them meeting and mating is very slim.

“Our effort here (at BRS) is to bring together these rhinos and increase this chance,” said Bora Field manager Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin.

It is estimated that only five or six breeding female rhinos remain in Borneo, specifically in Sabah. TWR was gazetted in 1984 after surveys identified it as the location with the highest population of this species.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Programme aims to prevent Sumatran rhino extinction in Sabah

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