Indonesia: Sumatran rhino sighted in Indonesian Borneo for first time in 40 years

Smallest of the Asian rhino species that number fewer than 100 in the world was captured in a wooden pit in Borneo, Indonesia, to protect and relocate it
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 22 Mar 16;

Conservationists have made the first physical contact in over four decades with a Sumatran rhino in Indonesian Borneo.

The smallest of the three Asian rhino species, hairy rhino numbers have plummeted to fewer than 100 on Earth due to hunting and habitat loss, with the last wild populations in Kalimantan, Borneo, and the island of Sumatra.

Experts said the capture of a female rhino on 12 March was “outstanding” and “unprecedented”, and marked the first live sighting of one in the area in over 40 years rather than on camera trap or by evidence such as footprints and dung.

“That’s a very, very rare thing,” said Simon Stuart, a rhino expert at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, who said the dense rainforest and remote nature of the area made sightings difficult. “Finding a single Sumatran rhino is good news given we can’t even account for 100 in the world.”

“It’s really a very exciting find,” said Glyn Davies, conservation director at WWF-UK, which captured the rhino using a wooden pit in order to protect it. Part of the reason the beasts were so hard to find is they are “very, very secretive,” he said. The rhino have been sighted in Sumatra more recently than in Kalimantan.

Once widespread across south-east Asia, from northern India to southern China, the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia last year, making Indonesia their final stronghold. But their low numbers, combined with a lack of international funding and political commitment locally for an action plan led conservationists in 2015 to warn the final ones might go extinct.

The Borneo female will now be re-homed in a sanctuary around 100 miles from where she was captured. Stuart said that because of previous experiences where poachers had arrived weeks after specific locations for Sumatran rhino sightings had been declared, it was important that the location of its new home was kept “really, really vague.”

A further 15 Sumatran rhino have been identified in Kalimantan with camera traps, but Stuart and Davies said it was too early to say whether those and the animal captured were enough for a viable breeding population. The female of the species need to breed regularly or can develop tumours that render them infertile.

Last year the only male Sumatran rhino in the western hemisphere was transported on a 55-hour journey from Cincinnati zoo to Sumatra, to help the remaining population to breed.

New hope for Sumatran rhino in Borneo
WWF 22 Mar 16;

Jakarta, Indonesia – WWF researchers are celebrating the first live sighting of a Sumatran rhino in Kalimantan, the Indonesia part of Borneo, since it was thought to be extinct there. This is also the first physical contact with the species in the area for over 40 years and is a major milestone for rhino conservation in Indonesia.

The female Sumatran rhino, which is estimated to be between four and five years old, was safely captured in a pit trap in Kutai Barat in East Kalimantan on 12 March.

“This is an exciting discovery and a major conservation success,” said Dr Efransjah, CEO of WWF-Indonesia. “We now have proof that a species once thought extinct in Kalimantan still roams the forests, and we will now strengthen our efforts to protect this extraordinary species.”

In 2013, a WWF survey team first found evidence that the species was not extinct in Kalimantan by identifying footprints and capturing an image of a rhino on a camera trap in the same forest. Since then,15 Sumatran rhinos have been identified in three populations in Kutai Barat.

The Sumatran rhino is one of two rhino species that exist in Indonesia. It is estimated that less than 100 Sumatran rhinos remain in the wild, mainly on the island of Sumatra. The rhinos face serious threats from poaching, and habitat loss due to mining, plantations and logging. The wild population of Sumatran rhinos in the Malaysian part of Borneo was declared extinct last year.

The captured female rhino is being held in a temporary enclosure before being translocated by helicopter to a new home – a protected forest about 150 km from the capture site. The rhino's new home is envisioned as the second Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia.

“This is a race against time for rhino conservation. Providing a safe home is the only hope for the the survival of the Sumatran rhino for many generations to come,” said Dr Efransjah. “WWF will work continuously with the Sumatran rhino conservation team for the protection of the Sumatran rhino population in Kalimantan.”

Working as part of the Sumatran Rhino Conservation Team established by the Indonesia Ministry of Environment and Forestry, WWF and other team members are working to translocate at least three rhinos from their current habitat to the sanctuary, where they will be safer and can establish a breeding population.

“This unprecedented discovery and unparalleled operation boosts our hope to save one of the most endangered species and an iconic symbol of the majestic Asian rainforests. This is an exciting moment in our efforts to save the world’s amazing biodiversity,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International.

“The entire WWF network commends the Indonesian Government, WWF-Indonesia and all partners involved for their commitment and for this ground-breaking operation,” added Lambertini.

In more good news, Indonesia also recently announced an increase in the population of the critically endangered Javan rhino, which only survives in Ujung Kulon National Park. Three new calves brought the number of Javan rhinos up to 63, from the 60 announced in September 2015.

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