Malaysia: Rhino lovers' dedication pays off

Kristy Inus New Straits Times 30 Jan 12;

THE capture of the elusive female rhino named Puntung at the Tabin Wildlife reserve last month, may have not happened had it not been for the dedication of the field staff under the non-governmental organisation, Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA).

For these field staff, working under the supervision of the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), it is more than just work as they are willing to spend extended periods away from home in a remote rainforest.

BORA field staff Justine Segunting, 33, said it took them almost two years to find Puntung.

"I was one of the first to see her, and nothing can describe how I felt at that time.

"We worked around the clock from when Puntung was found on Dec 18 to when she was brought to the interim facility on Christmas Day. We sacrificed our Christmas leave as we could not go home to celebrate, but it did not matter," said Justin who is from Telupid, about 200km from here.

Rajimah Kasran, one of only two women involved in field work, said it was a relief that Puntung was not captured by poachers who prized rhino horn for traditional medicine.

"We were worried that poachers might get her. I am so glad that she is now with us and doing well in the interim facility," she said.

Rajimah, 26, who is also from here, only returns home about five times a year as she is very involved in her work in rhino conservation.

Last Friday, BORA organised a function to present 21 of its field staff with certificates of appreciation for their hard work.

BORA chairman Dr Abdul Hamid Ahmad said the successful capture of Puntung required various types of resources and effort.

"Most important of all was the hard work over months and years among people working on the ground. Our staff worked at all times in collaboration with SWD staff in Tabin," said Dr Hamid.

"At any one time, BORA had about 20 people involved in one way or another in the capture of Puntung, as well as taking care of rhinos Tam and Gelogob who were already at the interim facility."

The NGO is currently helping SWD in the development of the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary, a Sabah government programme that kicked off in 2009, to prevent the extinction of rhinos in Sabah through captive breeding.

The BRS programme aims to bring rhinos from non-viable situations where the mammal exists but is not breeding, to a facility that will maximise chances for reproductive success.

Pending tests, Puntung is potentially a mate for Tam, a rhino that walked out of a forest in 2008.