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PUBLISHED: Sep 15, 2015 10:30pm

Sumatran rhinos living on borrowed time in Sabah

junaidi payne

SANDRA SOKIAL By:
Sandra Sokial

Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) executive director Datuk Dr Junaidy Payne stresses that there have been no new sightings of the Sumatran rhino in Sabah's wilderness over the last few years and time is running out for them.

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KOTA KINABALU, Sept 15, 2015:

Malaysia has three years left to ensure its Sumatran rhino does not become extinct.

A recent survey showed no new sightings of the mammal in the wild. The country received further devastating news that its three Sumatran rhinos in captivity were not fit enough to breed and produce offspring.

Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) executive director Datuk Dr Junaidy Payne is not blaming the possible extinction entirely on poaching, loss of habitat or the lack of commitment, but believes the reasoning was also mainly due to core problems which many refused to admit.

He said one was the “Allee effect’ which is a feature of small populations whereby low density limits population growth, leading to a death rate which is higher than the birth rate.

Secondly, Junaidy blamed the almost non-existent global leadership on the matter.

He said the International Union Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global body entrusted to find pragmatic solutions to the most pressing environment and development challenges, and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) had not done enough to ensure the Sumatran rhino population in Malaysia, and Sabah in particular, was not affected.

“Now we are left with three Sumatran rhinos, two females and a male, currently in captivity.

“The Sabah and federal governments could have kept this problem quiet, but we choose to make it public that we are losing our Sumatran rhino, especially in the wild.

“Indonesia still has 15, but then again, that’s based on educated guesses. We do not know the exact number.

“These numbers are not many and it’s important for us to act fast and ensure their survival. Otherwise, quoting Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun, ‘we are facing the prospect of our Sumatran rhinos going extinct in our lifetime’,” said Junaidy when met at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park in Putatan.

He also disclosed that decisions made were not based on facts as many chose to believe that there were still Sumatran rhinos in the wild.

“Today, some are saying there are eight to 10 Sumatran rhinos in the Malaysian wild, but that is only an assumption.

“In reality, we have not seen any new sightings of the mammal in the wild. We only found two five years ago, and then nothing despite all the hard work of setting up cameras in the jungle.”

For now, Sabah’s only hope is to have a healthy female Sumatran rhino as a surrogate mother, and they are turning to Indonesia for help.

The two female Sumatran rhinos, Puntung and Iman, which were separately captured by the Sabah Wildlife Department from the Sabah wilderness, are not healthy enough to bear calves.

“We first captured a female Sumatran Rhino in Tabin three years ago and named her Puntung. She had multiple ovarian and uterine cysts.

“Iman, which was captured in Danum Valley last year, has a football-sized tumour in her uterus. This means that trying to impregnate both female rhinos is close to impossible.”

Apart from the two, they also have a male Sumatran rhino in captivity, named Tam, caught in 2008 and diagnosed with a very low sperm count.

The team is hoping to apply advanced reproductive techniques, such as “Intercellular Sperm Insemination”, to produce an embryo.

In short, the fate of the Sumatran rhino in Sabah will be determined by next week, if the meeting between Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar and his Indonesian counterpart materialises.

Although there have been informal talks on the possible collaboration between officials from the two countries in relation to the Sumatran rhino conservation programme, the meeting scheduled on Sept 25 will hopefully pave the way for positive cooperation.

“Malaysia is running out of time, and fast, to ensure the survival of the Sumatran rhino in the wild.

“We now have to look at the bigger picture, which is to have these mammals back in Sabah’s wilderness again because they don’t belong to us. They belong to the world,” said Junaidy.

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