What it takes to save the Sumatran rhinos
Published on: Sunday, November 06, 2011
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Kota Kinabalu: The inability to find a fertile mate is among the reasons for the declining numbers of the Sumatran rhinoceros. Despite dedicated efforts to protect this species from poaching over the past few decades within the protected areas in Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, its numbers have continued to decline.

Most specialists close to the situation now believe that habitat loss and poaching no longer represent the major threats to the survival of this species.

Its numbers are so low that factors, associated with low numbers include pathology of the reproductive organs in females resulting in no pregnancies, inbreeding and skewed sex ratio, that rhino death exceeds its birth rate.

The Borneo Rhino Alliance, Land Empowerment Animals People, Resources Stewardship Consultants Sdn Bhd, Malaysian Nature Society, Traffic Southeast Asia and WWF Malaysia stated this in a joint statement here, recently.

The recent news of the extinction of the Javan rhinoceros on mainland Asia, with the death by poaching of the last remaining female in Vietnam in 2010, has sparked efforts to promote the survival of the species.

The extinction of the Vietnam rhino suggests that leaving rhinos in the wild to be poached or die of old age is no longer an adequate approach.

According to Ahmad Zafir and his colleagues in WWF Malaysia, Sabah Wildlife Department and Yayasan Badak Indonesia, the recent data from governments, NGOs and researchers indicate that the global Sumatran rhino population could be as low as 216, a decline from about 320 estimated in 1995.

This was published in the international conservation journal Oryx earlier in 2011 titled "Now or never: what will it take to save the Sumatran rhinocerous Dicerorhinus Sumatrensis from extinction?"

Based on the lessons learnt and expert opinions, they called for a two-pronged approach for conservation, which focuses on a translocation of wild rhinos from existing forest patches into semi-in situ captive breeding programmes.

The second approach is to apply a concomitant enhancement of protection and monitoring in priority areas that have established these breeding facilities.

At least US$1.2 million is required to implement the two-pronged strategy annually in four priority areas - Bukit Barisan Selatan and Way Kambas National Parks on Sumatra, and Danum Valley Conservation Area and Tabin Wildlife Reserve on Sabah.

The Borneo Rhino Sanctuary programme is already underway in Sabah, based on those two approaches, and implemented by the Sabah Wildlife Department with assistance from other agencies.

The species, which was previously widespread in Asia, is now confirmed to occur only in Indonesia and Malaysia, hence the two-pronged approach for the species is most likely now the only way forward to prevent its extinction.



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