Search on for Sumatran rhinoceroses

Footprints, dung the only proof of their existence
Roy See Wei Zhi New Straits Times 29 Dec 11;

KUALA LUMPUR: THE number of Sumatran rhinoceroses in the peninsula has dwindled to a level where one rhino might never meet another of its kind in its entire lifetime.

Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) conservation division senior assistant director Mohd Samsudin Mohd Suri said it had been more than 15 years since a Sumatran rhinoceros had been seen in the wild.

"The best evidence we have that this creature still exists are footprints and dung left by them."

Since then, he added, no other fresh evidence had been found, despite a year-long expedition conducted in the northeastern parts of Peninsular Malaysia.

"We have a 20-man team, consisting of rangers, researchers and wildlife conservationists, who have been tasked to locate the rhinos since the start of the year."

He said this species of rhinoceros would twist the branches off the foliage they fed on, producing a "signature" mark. This helped the rangers track them down.

"The team surveyed the entire forested area in Terengganu and the southern regions of the Belum-Temengor forest complex. However, the results were disappointing."

Samsudin said he hoped the efforts to locate the Sumatran rhinoceroses would yield some results before the expedition ends in June.

"Our main task now is to collect new hard evidence and eventually locate them.

"They will be moved to secured areas where there would be a higher chance they would breed and also be protected."

He said poaching was still a serious issue, alongside illegal logging, which had been threatening several species of endangered animals in the region.

Samsudin said despite being territorial, the Sumatran rhinoceroses were shy animals and generally avoided contact with humans.

"They are not aggressive like elephants and usually retreat silently when humans are present. This makes the efforts to locate them even more difficult," he said.

On Dec 18, a healthy female Sumatran rhinoceros, named Puntung, was captured in Sabah during a joint operation by the department and the Borneo Rhino Alliance.

Puntung, aged between 10 and 12 years, was airlifted out of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve on Christmas Day and was moved to Lahad Datu, Sabah, to meet its mate, Kertam.

The Borneo Rhino Alliance, Sime Darby Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Malaysian Palm Oil Council and Berlin's Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research have thrown their support behind the project to help the species propagate.