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SOS Rhino : In the News: : Articles : Sumatran Rhinoceros Collaborative Conservation Project in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

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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 Gardens

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 camera traps.

We returned to the TWR HQ and lodged at the DANCED Researchers' quarters.


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 bitten off

Awaiting satellite acquistion by the GPS units

Corroborating compass units and dead reckoning with GPS data

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 2001.

Checking out Lahad Datu Hospital and discussing emergency evacuation protocols

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.



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