By LARRY RAILON-Daily Express, 23 November 2010
Kota Kinabalu: The world’s attention will be on the Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary in Lahad Datu for the next 12 months or so to witness an attempt to breed the Sumatran rhinoceros – the world’s most endangered rhino species.
This will be done under a collaboration between the State Government and Germany. If successful, it will be an important milestone not only for the State’s conservation efforts but also the world.
The Sumatran rhino has been known all the while to be very sensitive with countless attempts made previously to breed it failing.
The breeding attempt is one of the collaboration projects under the Memorandum of Understanding sealed between the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), the Leipzig Zoo (LZ) and State Government, represented by the Sabah Wildlife Department.
It was signed Wildlife Director Dr Laurentius N. Ambu, IZW Director Prof. Dr Heribert Hofer DPhil and LZ Director Dr Jorg Junhold in a ceremony held at the department headquarters in Wisma Muis, here, Monday. The MoU is aimed at combining international expertise and resources in order to prevent further losses of biodiversity.
Sabah is internationally renowned as one of the world’s most important hotspots of biodiversity, including the world’s oldest rainforests with its associated fauna and flora. According to the IUCN, Sabah’s large animals – such as the Sumatran rhinoceros, Borneo pygmy elephants, Sunda clouded leopard and orang-utan, which are seriously threatened, face an extinction crisis.
For several years already, both the Wildlife Department and IZW have cooperated in conducting research on the conservation needs of threatened Bornean carnivores. This initiative has raised international attention through the re-discovery of the hairy-nosed otter in Sabah after over 100 years, and the first video ever taken of the Sunda clouded leopard or the endangered otter civet. With the MoU signed, this partnership will expand its remit to other Bornean flagship species such as the Sumatran rhino.
Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has agreed to finance the attempt to breed the Sabah rhino, the first project in the collaboration.
The Sabah rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni) is a subspecies of the Sumatran rhino and primarily lives in the lowland rainforests of the State. It is the smallest rhino and with less than 50 individuals it is the most endangered rhino species on the planet after the Northern white rhino in Africa. The Wildlife Department, with the cooperation of the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) and WWF Malaysia, started a comprehensive conservation programme to protect and breed these impressive rhinos.
The Bornean Rhino Rescue Programme is jointly funded by the Malaysian Government through the Sabah Development Corridor as well as Yayasan Sime Darby. “Yayasan Sime Darby has been very instrumental in initialising the Rhino Rescue Programme here in Sabah. The IZW will contribute to this programme with its scientific expertise in assisted reproduction techniques, and the LZ will contribute their skills in animal husbandry and will train our local staff in handling the animals,” said Dr Laurentius.
The IZW is known for its scientifically based approach to conservation research. “With the financial support from the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education, which has recently been granted for the Sabah rhino project, we are able to implement research and to support the local breeding programme with high tech equipment and a team of experts from Germany and Australia,” said Dr Heribert. LZ will send skilled keepers to Sabah in order to exchange their experiences in captive management, enrichment techniques and in enclosure design with the local keepers in Lok Kawi and Tabin. “On top of this we will inform more than two million visitors annually about Sabah’s outstanding rhino conservation project in our tropical hall ‘Gondwanaland’, which will open in 2011,” said Dr Jorg.
The IZW and LZ are closely collaborating with dan pearlman, a German brand and experience architecture firm, which will help promote the Sabah rhino project in Germany.
The cooperation between the Wildlife Department, IZW and LZ was initiated in November 2009 during a visit by the directors of the two German institutions in Sabah. The parties agreed to cooperate, improve, develop and implement strategies in the fields of wildlife conservation research, wildlife veterinary medicine and zoo management science. Shortly after their visit, the experts from both organisations performed a reproductive assessment of a captive male and female rhino, conducted by a specialist team of wildlife veterinarian scientists led by Dr Thomas Hildebrant from IZW and Prof. Chris Walzer from the Veterinary University of Vienna.
In January next year, the next step of the programme of reproductive research will take place.
“A female rhino, recently transferred to Tabin, will be stimulated with hormones and artificially inseminated,” said Dr Petra Kretzschmar from IZW. Explaining further, she said the resulting embryos will be collected and frozen in liquid nitrogen. Her genes are very valuable for the survival of the species but she is unfortunately too old to breed naturally.Acting swiftly is necessary for the success of the Sabah rhino conservation programme and its associated research.
Large areas of rhino habitat have disappeared for oil palm production which has fragmented the landscape, making reproductive contact between individuals difficult.
The Rhino and Forest Fund, a German-based non-governmental organisation, will supplement the conservation research programme of IZW and LZ, restoring and reconnecting degraded and fragmented forest land through reforestation.
The aim is to increase habitat and reconnect patches of rainforest, enabling the movements of individuals and the continuation of breeding of isolated populations.
The project is conducted in cooperation with the Sabah Forestry Department.
It is believed that this approach, including cutting edge scientific know-how from IZW, training and preparation from a prominent zoo, a reforestation programme and a public awareness campaign is unique and necessary for the rescue of one of the most endangered species on earth.