Saturday, April 02, 2016

Researchers Celebrate First Live Encounter With Sumatran Rhino in Borneo for 40+ Years


Researchers announced the first live encounter with a Sumatran rhino in Borneo for more than 40 years. But the human pressures that have pushed this species to the brink of extinction are still very much in play.

An excited World Wildlife Fund (WWF) team released details of how the female rhino was safely captured in East Kalimantan (part of Indonesian Borneo) last month and has now been transported to a more protected region.

Over the last few years, evidence from camera traps and footprints has indicated that these rhinos still survived in Borneo’s forests, but this is the first known encounter with a live animal since the early 1970s.

The rather inaccurately-named Sumatran rhino was once found across large swathes of southern and south-east Asia, but in modern times has survived only in Malaysia and Indonesia. Just last year, it was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia and now Indonesia is the rhino’s last refuge.

The discovery of one more rhino is fantastic, but in reality this news does little to secure the future of the species as a whole. These rhinos are still perilously close to extinction, surviving in tiny, scattered populations which are exquisitely vulnerable to any kind of threat, of which there are many.

A significant problem is the destruction of the rhinos’ rainforest habitat, largely due to the ongoing expansion of the palm oil and pulpwood industries.

In fact, some of the East Kalimantan rhinos have been detected in an area containing oil palm plantations, as well as a coal mine and “production forest” (which are areas in which selected trees are logged, damaging and degrading the forest or opening them up to plantations).

Taking away the trees robs the rhinos of their natural food sources and according to WWF they’re often forced to venture into logged areas to feed on new plant growth or crops. This makes them more vulnerable to the most direct and imminent threat: poaching.

Rhino horn—even the relatively small ones possessed by Sumatran rhinos—fetch huge prices and rhinos are valuable targets even though trade is illegal.

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