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SOS Rhino : In the News : More to rhino deaths
 

More to rhino deaths

  TheStar online
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

FOLLOWING the recent deaths of five endangered Sumatran rhinoceroses under our captive breeding programme, I would like to express my views on some biased reports which have appeared over the past few weeks.

I note there seems to be no indication that Malaysian Rhino Foundation (MRF) chairman Mohd Khan Momin Khan would accept accountability and responsibility for what has happened.

Since 1974, I have provided the MRF chairman (then the Chief Game Warden, Wildlife and National Parks Department) my expertise as a reproductive biologist on the translocation of the Malaysian elephant, and indirectly on the captive breeding of the Sumatran rhinoceroses.

Sad to say, the chairman does not heed much of our advice, preferring instead the opinion of Westerners.

The establishment of the Sungai Dusun Sumatran Rhino Conservation Centre (SRCC) in the early 1990s was for the in situ breeding of Sumatran rhinoceroses.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) veterinarian Dr Zainal Zahari managed it for almost a decade without incurring a single death.

Dr Zainal developed a repeated blood sampling technique to monitor the rhinosÍ ovarian function. By measuring progesterone, the technique predicts sexual receptivity for eventual mating.

Dr Zainal was bold enough to initiate other reproductive techniques such as ultrasound scanning, semen collection and early captive mating of the Sumatran rhinoceroses, for which Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) awarded him a Masters degree.

Just as Dr ZainalÍs efforts were about to achieve the desired results, he was removed from the conservation centre, for objecting to the hiring of two American zoo veterinarians who merely duplicated his research as well as an American zookeeper to manage the SRCC.

Since Dr ZainalÍs exit from the SRCC, we have witnessed the deaths of all Sumatran rhinoceroses at the SRCC.

The DWNP has built up local wildlife and captive management expertise since the 1970s.

Local experts include Dr Zainal and Shariff Daim (much sought after by wildlife authorities in Singapore Zoo, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka in the management of the elephant) as well as Dr Zaaba Zainol Abidin (well-known for his expertise in captive management of the endangered seladang).

Dr Zainal and Dr Mohd Tajuddin Abdullah are pioneering and leading rhinoceros experts both for in situ and ex situ management and are often consulted by zoos in Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand on rhino management.

Thus the MRF chairmanÍs claim that there are no local wildlife experts is incorrect. Westerners are not needed. In most cases they come to learn, then become experts to teach Malaysians.

Since the public is most confused with the management of the SRCC, the Science, Techno-logy and Environment Ministry should be more transparent and enlighten the scientific community and conservationists on the following:

• What are the roles and contributions of non-governmental organisations such as the Malaysian Rhino Foundation and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) in the development of the SRCC and capacity building of local expertise in reproductive biology of rhinos?

• What role does the MRF chairman play in the above agencies?

• Who provides finances to the SRCC and where does the money go to?

• Who manages the SRCC and who are the officers accountable and responsible for policies and its daily management?

• Why was Dr Zainal removed from the SRCC and why are local wildlife experts, including reproductive biologists from UPM, not directly involved in the breeding project?

• The post-mortem report revealed that Shah died of E.coli and not due to kidney failure. Why were the healthy rhinos not quarantined and the Sungai Dusun facility disinfected?

• Why were no serious attempts made to collect and preserve all DNA materials, stem cells, ovaries and semen of the dead rhinos for future genetic and reproductive research?

The Ministry should provide a detailed report on the above points and make it available to the scientific community before any decision is made to continue the Sumatran rhinoceros conservation programme.

The scientific community and conservationists can combine their resources to breed the Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia either by captive breeding or in situ conservation.

Both strategies have their merits too.

Prof Emeritus Dr M.R. Jainudeen
Reproductive biologist
Department of Veterinary Clinical Studies
Universiti Putra Malaysia
Serdang
Selangor