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SOS Rhino : In the News : Exciting find of six rhinos!

Exciting find of six rhinos!

  12 July, 2006

Kota Kinabalu: Hopes for the future of Sabah's remaining Sumatran Rhinos deemed critically endangered have soared after evidence of six individuals in addition to baby rhino footprints found inside the jungles of eastern Sabah within a matter of two weeks during a just concluded field survey.

Of the six adult individuals, researchers said they were certain three were "mature males."

The very fact that baby footprints were found meant females exist side by side and they are reproducing, they said.

The team also managed to physically follow and actually photograph one of these beasts at a very close range on July 3.

They also assured they had pictured a different individual from a recent WWF photo released and published worldwide last month, since that individual was captured by a trap camera in a different area.

Evidence of the unprecedented number of six plus a baby found recharged hitherto grim conservationists with cheers and optimism there's hope for Sabah to eventually claim Big Seven status- Sumatran Rhino, Pygmy Elephant, Orangutan, Proboscis monkey, Banten, Sun Bear and the Clouded leopard, at a seminar themed Status of the Sumatran Rhinoceros in Sabah and the Indonesians' Experiences,' held at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah Monday.

"I am really happy and excited," beamed Dr M.S. Thayaparan, SOS Rhino Borneo Programme Officer who is also pursuing a Masters degree on Sumatran Rhino nutrition, at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

"That means we have some hope that rhino numbers are coming up," Dr Thayaparan noted .

Past field research he did saw only footprints, he noted. "But now, I saw the rhino!".

Conservationists sometimes deem the Sumatran Rhino "effectively extinct" citing its unviable low world population and possibly, unbalanced sex ratio. Dr. Thayaparan says even that pessimism may change now.

"If we see this breeding activity , it is a good sign," he said. The bright picture is the product of a joint survey involved SOS Rhino Borneo officer, Indonesian rangers and staff of Sabah Wildlife Department.

But the help of veteran Indonesian Sumatran Rhino rangers well versed with the behaviour of the elusive animal made a telling difference to the successful tracking, said Dr Thayaparan.

In particular, the hands on methods in finding rhino signs and how to differentiate males from females taught by Borgor-based Aried Rubianto, an enforcement and intelligence officer of Bukit Barisan National Park and Miskun, an enforcement officer with the Indonesian Forestry Ministry.

Arief was asked how he knew for certain he saw evidence of three males.

His answer was male Sumatran Rhinos have four characteristic behaviour:

One, they push at tree saplings but maybe don't eat them; they scrap the ground with their feet; they make horn marks on trees at every 50m to 100m and finally, they drop piles of faeces that can be seen rather than hidden, done in all probabilities to attract the female.

"Females don't do any of those four things," Rubianto said.

"Given that he has been studying the Sumatran Rhino for 13 years in Sumatra, I prefer to believe that (Rubianto's opinion) rather than any theory," said Dr. John Payne, Senior Advisor to WWF Malaysia.

"Personally, I am somewhat more optimistic than a few years ago," Dr Payne said. "Just the fact that they were able to find evidence of six to seven individuals fairly easily within a short time makes it some cause for optimism rather than finding one or two in a long period," Dr. Payne added.

Given this new information, there may be a new found inspiration in Sabah to step up the primary protection of the existing rhino population estimated at 50, making sure this population is stabilised and then move up step by step to link up the isolated pockets of habitats to ensure its permanent survival.

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