Monday, April 01, 2013

Footprints of Sumatran rhinos discovered in Borneo

A team from World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s Indonesia office and the local Forestry Ministry’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency have discovered fresh footprints similar to those of an extremely rare rhino thought extinct from the area.

The team came across the footprints while conducting an orangutan search in an area in West Kutai District, East Kalimantan, in Borneo.

WWF-Indonesia, the West Kutai Forestry Agency, Mulawarman University and local experts then launched a follow-up survey to study the rhino tracks. Along with several footprints, the survey team identified markings from a rhino horn in the mud and on tree trunks, and discovered signs of rhino’s feeding.

Based on the findings and historical records of rhinos in East Kalimantan, the footprints have been scientifically confirmed as belonging to the Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) by rhino experts from WWF-Indonesia and the Mulawarman University’s School of Forestry’s Candra D. Boer.

The survey team also identified more than 20 plant species that rhinos eat, including Dillenia supruticosa, Glochidion glomemerulatum and Nblia Japanica.

Experts involved with the survey stated that these findings show proof of the rhinos’ presence, although there was no direct evidence in the form of a visual sighting. It is also not possible to confirm at this point in time whether these signs were made by a few rhinos or just one remaining individual.

“It is exciting news to find a population in an area where the species was long thought extinct,” said Barney Long, WWF’s Asian species expert. “However, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to preserve every individual of the species as its survival is currently hanging from the thinnest thread.”

“This is a very important finding to the world, and especially to Indonesia’s conservation work, as this serves as a new record on the presence of Sumatran rhinos in East Kalimantan and especially in West Kutai,” said Bambang Noviyanto, the director for biodiversity conservation at the Forestry Ministry. “Information surrounding the presence becomes important to draft strategies to protect the population, if it is found to be viable and breeding, and to educate [people living around] the habitat wherein [traces] of rhinos have been found,” continued Bambang.

In the future, more cooperation is needed with many parties, including local communities, corporations and others, to determine correct measures to support conservation efforts of Sumatran rhinos in Kalimantan.