Almost all hope for the Borneo rhino had evaporated before SOS-Rhino began working in Sabah in 1998. SOS-Rhino helped protect the remaining Sumatran rhinos in Sabah, and returned the species’ plight to the fore among national and international conservation concerns. Local and international NGOs and corporations are now actively involved, and Sabah’s government formed a task force to address rhino conservation in Sabah. We are very pleased with this development, and the increased attention that Borneo’s last rhinos are presently receiving.
SOS Rhino BORNEO was formed in 2003 as a local NGO and will remain with a Sabah-based board of highly skilled, qualified and dedicated conservation leaders. This is a positive development that has been further supported by the Sabah government’s renewed enthusiasm for continuing its rhino conservation work.
SOS Rhino Borneo has become stronger and even more effective and is proceeding with the next steps. Their major activities will be maintenance of the existing rhino protection units in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, along with research, community outreach, and other support for the Borneo rhinoceros, including appointment in the government’s rhino task force.
During the past 50 years on the Island of Borneo there has been no evidence of breeding rhinos other than in the Malaysian State of Sabah. In 1981, the only potentially viable population of rhinos remaining in Sabah was identified as being in Commercial Forest Reserves. In 1984, that area was re-classified as Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Danum Valley (43,000 hectares) was also recommended for protection in 1981, and was subsequently shown to have a small rhino population, and is no longer a forest concession, but established as Danum Valley Conservation Area. There is a need to continue monitoring and protection of the existing wild rhino population, both in Tabin Wildlife Reserve and around Danum Valley. Responsibility for conservation and management of land, forests and wildlife lies with the Sabah State government and the endangered status of the rhino in Sabah and the need for specific conservation action is recognized in the Sabah Development Corridor, a project launched by the federal government of Malaysia in January 2008 (see section 7.4.9 under http://www.sdc.gov.my...).
There is no threat of habitat loss for Tabin or Danum Valley. The biggest risk to the aim of preventing extinction of the Borneo rhino in Sabah is that numbers are so low, and mating so infrequent, with the risk of mating between close relatives, that the species may drift to extinction even in the absence of poaching. This is why the government of Sabah, with NGO support, has deemed it necessary to combine (a) sustained anti-poaching work with (b) sanctuary-type setting. SOS Rhino Borneo and WWF-Malaysia will work together with the key relevant government agencies (Sabah Forestry Department and Sabah Wildlife Department) to proactively address needs in terms of expertise, manpower and supplementary funding.
A two-day Sumatran rhinoceros conservation workshop was held in Sabah in July 2007, organized by Sabah Wildlife Department and SOS Rhino Borneo. Rhino experts reviewed the situation between 2001 and 2008 and concluded that: “At least some of the remaining rhinos have to be brought close together to increase the chances of successful mating. Selected rhinos will be captured and brought to a designated area from throughout Sabah. The purpose of this designated area will be to get as many of the rhinos as possible held there to contribute to breeding of the species.”
Shortly after the workshop a task force was formed, headed by Sabah Wildlife Department and consisting of governmental (Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department, & Federal Department of Wildlife and National Parks), NGOs (WWF-Malaysia and SOS Rhino Borneo), academic (Universiti Malaysia Sabah) and other experts. The task force agreed that an area be designated for a fenced sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The sanctuary-type setting will be designed and managed in light of lessons learned from past experience and mistakes in the capture and husbandry of Sumatran rhinos in Sabah, Peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia and Cincinnati Zoo. The sanctuary will be developed and implemented over an initial period of five years, after which progress will be reviewed, and if necessary, changes may then be made to Sabah’s rhino policy.