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SOS Rhino : In the News : Articles : SOS Rhino Voluntary Placement
 

SOS Rhino Voluntary Placement

  By: Madeleine Roberts

I worked as a volunteer for SOS Rhino at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Borneo, for 2 months, from December 2004 to January 2005. My main responsibility was to promote the charity because a lot of visitors to Sepilok were unaware of the plight of the Sumatran rhinos, or the fact that 2 rhinos were held at Sepilok.

A typical day would start at 8am when I would go to the rhino enclosure and check that the 2 rhinos looked ok, i.e. that their general body condition looked fine and that they hadn't injured themselves during the night. Sepilok has a 15 year old male called Tanjung and a 25 year old female called Gelugob. They are the Bornean sub-species of the Sumatran rhino, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni, which is a very cute looking rhinoceros, being very small and hairy. It is also quite dinosaur-like with its folds of skin on its torso. The two staff members who work for SOS Rhino would then get to work cleaning out the enclosures, feeding the rhinos and taking any samples that were due, such as blood (with the help of Sepilok's vet) and faeces.


Male Sumatran rhino, "Tanjung", housed at Sepilok Rhino Breeding Center


At about 8.45am, I would go to the video room where two videos were shown, the first on orangutans and the second on the rhinos. In between the two videos, I would give a talk to the audience, telling them about SOS Rhino, how endangered the Sumatran rhinos are and about the rhinos at Sepilok. I would then go to the reception area where there is a display on the Sumatran rhinos at Sepilok. I handed out leaflets to tourists and talked to them about the rhinos, trying to encourage them to make a donation or purchase t-shirts. Sepilok has around 200 visitors on average per day and most of them pass through reception between 9 and 10am, on their way to the orangutan feeding, so this was quite a busy time. It would then quieten down until the tourists returned from the feeding between 10.30 and 11am.


Maddie at work in the video room

I occasionally spent the mornings at the rhino viewing platform, which is where tourists can view the male rhino, but unfortunately, for a lot of my stay, the platform was closed because it needed repair work. This was an extra challenge - trying to get people interested in an animal that they couldn't see. At 11am, the videos were shown again, so I again gave my talk. This produced very positive results with people often coming out from the video room and going straight to make a donation or buy a t-shirt.

The afternoons could be spent doing admin work, such as stock-taking the t-shirts or data entry on the computer. The samples that were collected all needed recording plus behaviour studies were done on the rhinos every day that also needed to be entered. Alternatively, the afternoons could be spent at the rhino enclosure, taking photos of the rhinos for the records, or doing odd jobs such as checking the viewing enclosure for litter, sweeping leaves out of the concrete enclosures, helping to prepare a new enclosure, etc.

Before I started this placement, I knew nothing about the Sumatran rhino. I have been to Africa several times so knew about the black and white rhinos, but I had no idea how endangered the Sumatran rhino was. I was surprised by how little was known about the Sumatran rhino because they are very difficult to study in the wild. I also learned that conservation needs time and patience because the rhino breeding programme at Sepilok has been running for over 10 years with as yet no babies being born. By volunteering for SOS Rhino, I felt like I was really helping a good cause and making a contribution to the conservation of this species.


Sumatran rhino exhibit at Sepilok Education Center

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