By Chris Maskilone
July 1, 2002
KOTA KINABALU: Conservation efforts on the Sumatran Rhino must
not be taken for granted anymore as the mammal's population has
decreased alarmingly to the point of near extinction in Sabah.
Despite efforts taken by the State Government for a number of years,
the rhino's (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) numbers continue to decline,
with poaching being the major threat, said Laurentius N Ambu of
the Sabah Wildlife Department.
Apart from poaching, logging activities causing disturbance, loss
and fragmentation of the rhino's habitat also contributed to its
He said what was adding to the woes was that it is now quite impossible
to ascertain the actual number of rhinos in Sabah.
"Efforts to protect have to be intensified immediately,"
he said in his paper at the Second Sumatran Rhino Conservation Seminar
in Shagri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort here, Saturday.
The seminar jointly-organised by the SOS Rhino, Institute of Tropical
Biology and Conservation (UMS), Wildlife Department and AREAS-WWF
Sabah was launched by Assistant Tourism, Environment, Science and
Technology Minister Datuk Karim Bujang.
Indicators such as Davies and Payne (1982) stated that there were
between 15 and 30 rhinos, 38-plus for Tabin and Danum Valley (Khan
in 1989) and known (30) with possible (70) in whole of Sabah (Foose
and van Strien 1997).
Based on this, he said it was clear that the Sumatran rhino population
in Sabah warrants a highly-endangered rating and that serious concern
for the survival of the sub-species is fully justified.
"Low numbers, a possibly skewed sex ratio in favour of males
and little evidence of current breeding constitute the main basis
for this concern," he added.
Two areas in south eastern Sabah are judged to have viable populations
with prospects of long-term survival, viz Tabin Wildlife Reserve
(1,200 sq km) and the forest reserve in Ulu Segama in Kuamut area
(totaling approximately 4,000 sq km).
The area in Kuamut includes the Danum Valley and Maliau Basin Conservation
area, within the Sabah Foundation's 100-year logging concession
area, he said.
"A limited survey of rhino distribution was carried out in
late 1989 and early 1990 by WWF Malaysia and concentrated mainly
on previously unsurveyed rhino ranges in the Ulu Segama and Kuamut
area," he said.
There is also possibility of viable populations in the Dermakot/Tangkulap/Segaliud
Lokan Forest Reserve when it is fully surveyed.
He said the Sumatran rhino was relatively common in North Borneo
at the turn of the century, during which the harvesting of rhino
horn by native hunters was encouraged by the government, then.
By 1960s the rhinos had largely disappeared from western and northern
Sabah and became confined to the forests in the southeastern areas.
By the late 1970s it was feared that the rhino was nearing extinction
in Sabah, but according to Davies and Payne (1990), a statewide
faunal survey from 1979 to 1982 revealed some small breeding populations
"Such pocketed animals are also frequently vulnerable to hunting
by virtue of the reduced size of their habitat now surrounded by
areas under agriculture and other human activities," he said.
In this respect, the Government's policy and legislation regarding
wildlife and conservation, and protection of management of wild
fauna and flora, respectively, constitute important components for
planning conservation of the rhinos.
Steps must be taken to determine the precise distribution and status
of the rhinos that live outside of the protected areas, especially
those living in isolation and out of the reproductive contact with
The next step should be to systematically capture and translocate
doomed individuals, integrating them into the viable populations
in wildlife sanctuaries.
It is heartening to note that the Wildlife Department has been
receiving external assistance in its bid to save the rhinos from
extinction, such as the Asian Rhino Specialist Group, the SOS Rhino,
and WWF Malaysia Sabah branch.