KOTA KINABALU: The race is on to save the Sumatran rhinoceros, especially the population in Sabah, from extinction.
Realizing just how dire the situation is with the animal, the State Government has given its approval for the target capture of a wild female rhino in Danum Valley for the purpose of producing baby rhinos.
The female rhino which has been identified through camera traps in Danum will be placed in an enclosure there so that she can mate with the existing male rhino in captivity with the hope that they can produce a baby.
Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said that the approval was given early this year after the Cabinet was briefed on the current situation with regard to the Sumatran Rhinos in Sabah.
Masidi, after a meeting with the Sabah Wildlife Department, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) and WWF Malaysia yesterday, said that the long-term aim of the move is to re-establish a fully wild rhino population in the state.
“We think that there are no more than 10 Sumatran Rhinos living in Sabah. Even though some quarters claim that there are about 30, evidence collected via camera trap and other methods show that the number is not many. Probably it is safer to assume that not more than 10 in Sabah now.
“Of the total three are in captivity, including Tam, a male, and Puntung, a female, in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. These two have been together for more than two years for the purpose of captive breeding but there is no indication that they are even interested in mating,” he said.
Masidi added that capturing the female rhino is just one of the steps to be taken towards increasing the number of Sumatran rhinos is Sabah.
“We have given ourselves until July 2014 to see some results failing which we will consider working with the Cincinnati Zoo in United States of America for the rhino breeding purposes. We are looking at collecting Tam’s sperm and sending it to the zoo to be artificially inseminated into their Sumatran Rhino with the hope that it will produce a baby rhino.
“If that too fails, then we may have to send Tam on loan to Cincinnati Zoo as a mate for their sole female Sumatran rhino named Suci. Another option that we are considering is to send Tam’s sperm to our Indonesian counterparts to be artificially inseminated in their female captive rhino,” he said.
Should a baby rhino be born, it will stay at the Cincinnati Zoo because it does not matter where it is kept just as long as the species does not go extinct, he stressed, adding that the state government is pursuing every available option to save the species.
“We do not want to just wait until it’s too late to do something … we must act now,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said that the department had consulted with a wide range of local and international expertise, including people managing wild and farmed African rhinos, zoo people, specialist vets, rhino ecologists and people who have been involved in saving other critically endangered birds and mammals, and some who have tried and failed.
According to Dr Laurentius, the only consensus is that the department has to act quickly to boost Sumatran rhino births.
Although a few international people do not agree, governmental and non-governmental professionals in Sabah say that that there is now an urgent need to get as many rhinos into fenced, managed conditions as soon as possible, so that every rhino can be closely monitored and treated as necessary, to get them producing embryos, he said.
“In my opinion, the exact location where the rhinos are kept is not paramount concern for this programme. We can move them between facilities as long as the care is always world class and the intention is to breed rhinos. I do believe that at this case, Sabah can and should take a leadership role,” he stressed.