Conservationists working to save the Sumatran rhino—one of the world’s most imperiled mammals—heard good news this week as WWF-Indonesia has found evidence of at least one Sumatran rhino persisting in the Indonesian state of Kalimantan, located on the island of Borneo. Small populations of Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) survive on Sumatra and on Borneo (in the Malaysian state of Sabah), but this is the first time scientists have confirmed the presence of the notoriously shy animal in Kalimantan in over two decades.
“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,” Bambang Noviyanto, the director for biodiversity conservation at the Forestry Ministry, said. Currently scientists estimate that there are around 200-275 Sumatran rhinos surviving in the wild.
Although WWF-Indonesia teams have not seen a rhino in Kalimantan yet, they have recently discovered footprints, mud wallows, tree markings, and signs of rhino-feeding.
“The Sumatran rhino is on the very brink of extinction. The number of remaining individuals is unknown, and as they become rarer, the more difficult is it to count them,” John Payne a conservation scientist with the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) in Sabah, Malaysia told mongabay.com.
Tam, a Sumatran rhino in a semi-wild sanctuary in Sabah. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
There is no information yet on whether this is just one rhino or a group of survivors. Long-decimated by deforestation and poaching, populations of Sumatran rhinos today have become so small and fragmented that it’s difficult for them to breed successfully. In some cases, single rhinos have been found surviving alone in a small forest fragment.
“The fact that this discovery comes more than a decade after the last evidence of the species in Kalimantan, despite the opening up of previously remote areas during that period, suggests that this might be just one or a small number of individuals,” explains Payne. “If so, they might not have been breeding. There may be inbreeding, or a skewed sex ratio, or simply old or otherwise infertile rhinos.”
Payne’s organization, BORA, is working to breed Sumatran rhinos in large semi-wild enclosures in Sabah. Currently, BORA has two rhinos, a male (Tam) and a female (Puntung). Tam was captured after he wandered into a palm oil plantation with an injured foot, while Puntung was taken from the wild when it was realized she was alone in a forest fragment with no chance of meeting a male for breeding. Payne and a group of scientists are now trying to breed the pair.
A similar breeding program on Sumatra last year saw the birth of the first Sumatran rhino calf in captivity since 2001 and only the fourth in the last hundred years. However, more rhinos are likely needed if the breeding programs in Sumatran and Sabah are to be successful in the long-term.
“As a wildlife biologist with an interest in the species since the 1970s, I would hope that consideration might be given to capture to add to the global captive population of 10 individuals,” he says. “New genes are needed. Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), although a Malaysian NGO, would be happy to collaborate with WWF-Indonesia and the Indonesian authorities, if that is thought to be useful. Such collaboration would help in exchanging information and idea, and help to better secure collaboration on this species between Indonesia and Malaysia.”
For now, WWF-Indonesia conservationists are working to determine just how many rhinos might persist in East Kalimantan and work with local communities to protect the area.
“Rhinos, dolphins, clouded leopards and local buffalo are among God’s creations that are getting rare, but apparently they’re still alive in West Kutai,” Ismael Thomas SH. M.Si, the head of the West Kutai district, said. “We must protect them, and the communities must live in harmony with nature.”
(03/17/2013) With the number of Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) now under 200 and declining rapidly, a group of conservationists have organized an emergency summit to discuss courses of action to save the world’s smallest remaining rhino from extinction.
(08/21/2012) Efforts to save the Sumatran rhino in Borneo have sped up ever since the capture of Puntung last Christmas. A female rhino, who lost one foot to a snare, Puntung represents the first viable mate for Tam, a male rhino who has been kept in a large rainforest enclosure since his rescue in an oil plantation in 2008. Now a new video hopes to garner some publicity for the new couple, who may represent the best chance for the continued survival of Sumatran rhinos on Borneo.
(08/12/2012) With the help of remote camera traps, wildlife rangers have confirmed that the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) still inhabits the Leuser ecosystem in northern Sumatra, making the forest the only place on the Earth where Sumatran tigers, orangutans, elephants, and rhinos survive in a single ecosystem, though all remain Critically Endangered.
(06/25/2012) On early Saturday morning, scientists were elated when first-time Sumatran rhino mother, Ratu, gave birth to a healthy male calf. The birth was filmed as well footage has been taken of the little tike—with massive eyes—nursing (see videos below). The new calf gives hope to a species on the very brink of extinction.
(06/24/2012) After two miscarriages and a pregnancy that lasted 15 months, Ratu, a female Sumatra rhino, has given birth to a healthy male calf, conservationists happily announced this weekend. The birth at a rhino sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra is the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and the best reproductive rhino science in the world. This is the first captive birth in Indonesia, and only the fourth captive birth for the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in the last hundred years. The successful birth brings new hope for one of the world’s rarest mammals: less than 200 Sumatra rhinos are thought to survive in the world.
(04/09/2012) On December 18th, 2011, a female Sumatran rhino took a sudden plunge. Falling into a manmade pit trap, the rhino may have feared momentarily that her end had come, but vegetation cushioned her fall and the men that found her were keen on saving her, not killing her. Little did she know that conservationists had monitored her since 2006, and for her trappers this moment had been the culmination of years of planning and hope. A few days later she was being airlifted by helicopter to a new home. Puntung, as she has become called, was about to enter a new chapter in her life, one that hopefully will bring about a happy ending for her species.