The following article was written by Kit Sun Tan, Conservation Curator
at Singapore Zoological Gardens.
Kit is an agricultural scientist trained at the
University of Sydney. He also completed the Wildlife Training Course
conducted by the Smithsonian Institute in Malaysia. He is a Malaysian
residing in Singapore and employed at the Singapore Zoological Gardens
since 1989. He currently holds the position of Conservation Curator.
He is also an Executive Board member for the South East Asian Zoos
Association (SEAZA) since 1996 and currently holds the Chair for
Regional Training and the Vice Chair for Regional Conservation.
Kit is now coordinating conservation efforts in Cambodia, Vietnam,
Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia.
Singapore Zoo Conservation Department has contributed
funds for our Borneo project over $30,000.00 and will assist in
fund raising over next five years through the assistance of their
conservation officer Kit Sun Tan.
Sumatran Rhinoceros Collaborative Conservation
Project in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
By Tan Kit Sun, Conservation Coordinator, Singapore Zoological
As part of the Singapore Zoological Garden's (SZG) involvement with
the in situ conservation (habitat protection and public awareness)
in the conservation of the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros
(Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrisoni), we have been requested by
SOS Rhino to make regular audits on the work carried out by the
field officers at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve.
We have also partnered with the Singapore International Foundation
(SIF) to provide volunteers to help with the project. Volunteers
were recruited from the Temasek Polytechnic and funded by the SIF.
Day 1 - 15th August 2001
Arrival at the town of Lahad Datu at 1500 hours and met up with
Dr. Edwin Bosi and Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn. Final shopping for grocery
supplies to take into Tabin Wildlife Reserve was completed before
dinner. A meeting was conducted dinner and preliminary plans of
action and task allocation was agreed upon.
Day 2 - 16th August 2001
We began the drive to Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR) at 0700 hours.
The journey took two and half hours. On the way we stopped at the
Lahad Datu wet market to purchase some fresh greens for the rangers.
Upon arrival at TWR Park Head Quarters, we repacked our gear and
had lunch before proceeding up the main trail into the reserve.
The team consisted of Dr. Kilbourn, 2 SIF officers, 3 rangers and
myself (total 7)
At Kilometre 3, we encountered a bull elephant coming the other
way. We followed protocol by making enough noise to let the elephant
know we were there. However the elephant decided that it had right
of way and charged. We beat a hasty retreat and only stopped after
2kms at a low bridge were we could duck in the event that the bull
elephant caught with us. After some serious discussions, it was
decided to postpone the trek into the operations area to the morning
of the 17th August. However this would only allow us 2 nights in
the operations area to look for signs of rhino and to service the
We returned to the TWR HQ and lodged at the DANCED Researchers'
Day 3 - 17th August 2001
We entered the park again at 0800 and reached KM7 at 1200 hours.
The 7km walk was fairly easy as the trail was along an old logging
track. There were plenty of signs of elephants (divots and uprooted
tussocks of grass all along the trail). We then bore due South for
1.5kms to the main field camp. The 1.5kms was quite challenging
and required one to climb a couple of low cliffs with a full 25kgs
pack. However the dry season helped traction and movement was relatively
quick. The main camp was sited on a rocky slope next to a small
stream which was our water supply.
The staff from SIF tested out the satellite phone and though we
managed to acquire a nearby satellite, no calls could be made. It
later turned out after the trip that the account was not activated
by the Singapore service provider. The satellite phone was for emergency
use by the volunteers. The GPS (global positioning system) equipment
worked within its limitations.
Every one set up camp and after lunch the group split into 2, with
one group back tracking and the other going down the small stream
to look for likely areas. I was with the 2nd group. Movement down
the rocky stream bed with large boulders is very slow. The only
animal we saw was a flat headed cat (Felis planiceps) which left
wet tracks on the rock where it leap from one bank to the other.
During the night we heard several barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak)
calling throughout the night.
Base Camp at KM7
Day 4 - 18th August 2001
Immediately after breakfast at 0900, the entire group of 7 left
to service the camera traps located along a ridge 1.5kms due south
of the KM7 Main Camp. The terrain was tough, with steep slopes.
We had to traverse 3 hills to access the ridge in question.
Along the ridge was a old logging trail since overgrown with undergrowth.
However, there was a distinct game trail with plenty of signs of
ungulate movement as well as tracks of elephants.
In a narrow gully the rangers found an old Sumatran rhino track
and I saw signs of shrubs and low trees browsed by the rhinos. This
was an encouraging sign. We retrieved 2 cameras and relocated them
at a narrow gully through which any animal must pass.
We returned to the main camp by 1600 hours.
Shrub browsed by Sumatran rhino note the tips
Awaiting satellite acquistion by the GPS units
Corroborating compass units and dead reckoning with
Top and below setting up of camera trap at
the bottom of a gully
Day 5 - 19th August 2001-10-17
We broke camp at 1000 and trekked back to TWR HQ. The trip was
generally uneventful, except at KM5 where we heard a herd of elephants
just in the tree cover about 50m away, and arrived at 1300 hours.
After repacking our equipment, we drove out of TWR and headed for
Lahad Datu where we spent the night.
Day 6 - 20th August
As the flight to Kota Kinabalu was at 1700 hours, we spent the
day looking at logistics and emergency evacuation for the volunteers. SIF staff inspected the local hospital and spoke to the surgeon
in charge on emergency protocols.
We also met up with the Lions Club president Mr. Chin to discuss
public awareness campaigns and eco tourism assistance to Lahad Datu
that can be rendered by the volunteers. We flew to KK at 1700 where
Dr. Bosi had arranged a meeting with Dr. Andau for the 21st August
Checking out Lahad Datu Hospital and discussing emergency
From left - Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn (SOS Rhino), Ms.
Karen Chin (SIF), Tan Kit Sun (SZG), Mr. Chin (Lions Club), Ms.
(Temasek Poly), Ms. Jennifer (Ranger) and Mr. (Temasek Poly)
Day 7 - 21st August 2001
We met the Director at 0945 and the meeting lasted until 1145.
The meeting went very well and Dr. Andau was very pleasantly surprised
that the SZG has managed to breed 7 Proboscis monkeys. Apart from
the Rhino Project we discussed ways in which the WRS SZG can get
support the in situ work of the Sabah Wildlife Department. Minutes
of the meeting attached for your perusal.
Day 8 - 22nd August 2001
Returned to Singapore.