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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News : Alarm bells on the Sabah rhino

Alarm bells on the Sabah rhino


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 declining population.

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 still exist.

"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 other rhinos.

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.



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