By Sujadi Siswo, Channelnewsasia
JAKARTA, 11 December 2012: There is a ray of light at the end of the tunnel for the conservation of the almost extinct Sumatran rhinos. In collaboration with non-governmental organisations, enhanced cooperation and joint efforts are being considered by relevant authorities in Malaysia and Indonesia to increase the remaining tiny rhino populations in both nations.
The aim to work together to save this rhino species which is nearing extinction was further cemented during a recent visit to the Way Kambas National Park Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Lampung Province, Sumatra in Indonesia.
Globally, there are only 11 live Sumatran rhinos in managed breeding facilities namely in Way Kambas, Borneo Rhino Sanctuary (BRS) in Sabah and Cincinnati Zoo in USA, while the numbers in the wild are believed to be dwindling in a continuing trend, with less than 150 rhinos currently in existence.
The Sumatran rhino is Malaysia’s most endangered wildlife species, and very small wild populations are believed to exist only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), the philanthropic arm of the Sime Darby Group, has committed RM11.4 million over six years from 2009 towards efforts to breed the Sumatran rhinos at the BRS in Sabah.
Efforts to share and exchange technological, genetic and biological information and experience, and possibly even gametes (eggs and sperm), were among the discussion topics during the trip to SRS made by officials from the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) and Yayasan Badak Indonesia (YABI).
The trip to the SRS by the officials was to see the new baby rhino, Andatu, born five months ago, and the first ever Sumatran rhino birth in captivity in Indonesia.
Led by YSD chairman Tun Musa Hitam, the delegation also made a courtesy call on Indonesian Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan in Jakarta, the day after the trip to Lampung.
Tun Musa said the Minister agreed that both parties could and should work together to breed the rhinos in managed sanctuaries, in order to increase the depleting population.
“We want to ride on the success of our Indonesian counterparts to breed the rhinos as we are also trying hard to do the same. We can learn from their experiences and collaborate.
“We need to have the endorsement of both the Indonesian and Malaysian governments for the exchange of information, biological materials and expertise.
“We should work on all areas of cooperation and consideration should also include exchange of rhinos,” he added. Andatu’s father, Andalas, was the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity after 112 years in 2001, in Cincinnati Zoo. He was paired with Ratu in 2009, at the Sumatran Rhinoceros Sanctuary within the Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia. Despite two consecutive miscarriages, Ratu delivered Andatu after a 16-month third and successful pregnancy.
Efforts are now underway at the BRS in Sabah for Puntung to conceive. She was airlifted from a solitary life on a hill range in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve on 25 December 2011, in a dramatic operation, as a mate for the male rhino Tam, who is also at the BRS facility. It is hoped that the duo would be able to produce an offspring to help save their species from impending extinction.
Puntung’s foot is believed to have been ripped off in a poacher’s snare trap when she was a small infant but, miraculously, the wound healed and she survived. However, she has problems with endometrial cysts in the lining of her womb, possibly as a result of long periods in the wild without reproductive activity. This problem is being addressed with the help of rhino reproductive experts from the Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin.
The BRS programme, initiated by the Sabah government in 2009, aims to prevent the extinction of the Sumatran rhino, the only wild species of rhino in Malaysia.
A Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit themed “Last chance to act!” will be held in Singapore in April 2013 to bring together existing local experts and concerned people and others who have been involved with similarly endangered species in other parts of the world over the past few decades.
Among the success stories of bringing back other species “on the edge” of extinction include the Californian condor, black footed ferret, crested Ibis, red wolf, Indian rhino and white rhino, all of which nearly went extinct but are now increasing in numbers.
The Summit is also a global effort to save the rhinos from suffering the same fate as the now extinct Yangtze river dolphin (2007), the Javan rhino in Vietnam (2010), and the northern white rhino (extinct in the wild by 2008, but with a small number in captivity).
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