Malaysia: Evidence found in Danum Valley could mean Sumatran rhinos exist in the wild

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 7 Dec 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The declaration by scientists that the Sumatran rhino is extinct in Malaysian jungles may have been premature after a footprint was spotted in Sabah’s untouched Danum Valley.

The footprint is believed to be from the animal, giving scientists and conservationists here a glimmer of hope.

It was found by a survey team at the internationally renown rainforest research centre between Aug 16 and 29, this year.

“We believe that it is a rhino footprint. But we can’t confirm it.

“It gives us some hope that rhinos still exist in the wild.

“So far, the rhino has not been seen or captured on camera in the area of survey,” said WWF Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Pro­g­­­ramme manager Sharon Koh Pei Hui during a briefing on her team’s findings to the media here yesterday.

Her team was among 10 who carried out the survey in Danum Valley as part of Yayasan Sabah’s efforts to strengthen strategic conservation efforts in the 438 sq km of untouched rainforest.

Koh, who did not identify the exact area where the footprint was spotted, said they needed to go back with various experts from the Borneo Rhino Alliance, Sabah Wildlife Department and Forestry Department to thoroughly check the area.

Koh said there were also some concerns about encroachment by people – possibly hunters –near where the footprint was found.

“We saw markings on the trees. It looks like people are encroaching into the area. There is a need to secure the place,” she said, adding that the place was close to the border with plantations.

Asked if the footprint could be that of an elephant or its calf, she said this was unlikely as there was no evidence of elephant dung or damage in the forest where the elephants might have passed through.

Only three rhinoceros in captivity are known to exist in Sabah with none having been spotted in the wild since 2011.

The last one spotted in Peninsular Malaysia was in 2007.

Last year, 11 scientists had declared that the Sumatran rhinos are now extinct from Malaysian jungles.

However, local conservationists are still holding on to the slim hope that the rhinos might be out there in untouched forests like Danum Valley or the Tabin Conservation Area in Lahad Datu.

Like in Indonesia’s central Kalimantan where the animals were thought to have also gone extinct, WWF camera traps recorded two rhinos in the wild about three years ago.

All the three rhinos at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary have problems in their reproductive systems and are unable to breed.

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