Reforestation effort launched in Borneo with nearly-extinct rhinos in mind

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
November 18, 2010



The Rhino and Forest Fund (RFF) has partnered with the Forestry Department of Sabah in northern Borneo to launch a long-term reforestation project to aid Malaysia's threatened species with particular emphasis on the Bornean rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni), one of the world's most imperiled big mammals. The reforestation project will be occurring in and adjacent to Tabin Wildlife Reserve, which is surrounded on all sides by oil palm plantations.

"We see the charismatic [Bornean rhino] as a flagship species for the diverse lowland rainforest in Sabah. The signing is a major breakthrough to effectively combine the protection of endangered species like the rhino and the restoration of their natural habitat," Dr. Petra Kretzschmar, co-founder of RFF, said in a press release.

The Bornean rhino is a subspecies of the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. After decades of extensive forest loss and poaching, the Sumatran rhino has dwindled to some 250, while the Bornean rhino is down to 50 animals at best. Already, one of the Sumatran rhino subspecies, the Northern Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis lasiotis), is likely extinct, though a few may survive in Myanmar.


Researchers estimate that 250 Sumatran rhino survive in the world, and 40 or so Bornean rhinos, such as this captive male, named Tam. Scientists hope to pair Tam with a female to produce the next generation of Bornean rhinos, in an effort to save this species from extinction. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
"The Sumatran rhino remains on a trajectory to extinction. In Sabah, at least, not enough rhinos are being born to sustain the species. Protection work to prevent illegal hunting and trapping is a necessary activity, in order to prevent unnatural deaths of rhinos, but even more importantly, everything that can possibly be done, needs to be done, to boost rhino births," explained Junaidi Payne with WWF-Malaysia to mongabay.com. Payne has been working with the Bornean rhino for years and is currently Executive Director of the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA).

While the Bornean rhino has become the focal species of the reforestation project, implementers hope the project serves a number of threatened species in Tabin, including orangutans, Bornean pygmy elephants, and the clouded leopard. The rapidly-vanishing forests of Borneo are considered some of the world's most biodiverse, and Tabin Wildlife Reserve is no exception with a rare stand of old-growth forest still surviving in the park's core area.


The view overlooking Tabin Wildlife Reserve. In the foreground is oil palm plantations, in the background forest. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
"Sabah is a hotspot of biodiversity and therefore of global significance. If Sabah loses species, the whole planet will become poorer. So there should be global awareness, cooperation and action on an international level to stop species loss," says Robert Risch, co-founder of the RFF.

Payne adds that the program brings much-welcome defenders to the fight to save Borneo's wildlife, which is among the most besieged in the world.

"History shows that protected areas in Sabah have benefited from having at least one long term conservation-related program. It doesn't matter exactly what the program entails—what is important is that the area has a high profile, and there will always be people ready and able to defend the integrity and significance of that area whenever it may come under threat," says Payne.

The island of Borneo has lost approximately half of its forest cover in the past 50 years to oil palm plantations, pulp and paper, logging, and fires.







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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (November 18, 2010).

Reforestation effort launched in Borneo with nearly-extinct rhinos in mind.

http://news.mongabay.com/2010/1118-hance_reforestation_borneo.html