Malaysia Archives - Rhino Review

Armed unit to tackle poaching (Malaysia)

By Antipoaching, Law & legislation
Sherell Jeffrey, The Daily Express | December 27, 2019

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It was a sad year for Sabah’s wildlife which saw the death of its last known male and female Sumatran rhinos as well as continued killings of pygmy elephants.

Iman, a 25-year-old female rhino in captivity at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Lahad Datu, died of natural causes on Nov 23.

Her death came before a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the proposed Malaysia-Indonesia collaboration to obtain some new egg cells from her was signed. A male, Tam, also succumbed in May.

The State Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment remained adamant in pursuing the MoU as both Iman and Tam still live on as cell cultures in Malaysia.

Tam’s preserved remains are now on exhibit at the State Museum until Dec 31, 2019. His taxidermy skinning process led to the discovery of seven bullets with lead pellets found on fragments of his hind leg and lower part of his tail. Earlier, members of the public contacted the Daily Express to call for its preservation.

Original photo as published by Daily Express: Iman before her demise.

Malaysian police para-military unit, Tiger Platoon, has also been called in to assist the Wildlife Department to stop the senseless killing of the elephants.

In November, the Tiger Platoon from the General Operations Force was assigned to assist relevant authorities in protecting the wildlife in the State.

The special platoon is to be mobilised to conduct patrols, track down suspects and carry out joint raids with enforcement officials, including from the Wildlife Department and the Sabah Forestry Department.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador was quoted as declaring open war against those responsible. In Sabah, all the five PGA battalions have been tasked with combating illegal hunting activities and the plundering of forest treasures.

It also came as a shock that a syndicate had been active in Sabah smuggling pangolins worth RM8 million in February and that the State Wildlife Department or authorities knew nothing about its operations for seven years.

The 30-tonne pangolin haul was also picked up by the world’s press, calling it a record. The seizure from one single raid that went unnoticed by the authorities confirmed there was massive poaching going on in Sabah.

Seven pygmy elephant deaths were reported since September, in which elephant tusks were also reported missing, with some smuggled into Indonesian Kalimantan.

Two tusks involving the case in Dumpas Kalabakan were recovered. The elephant that owned the tusks was found dead with 70 shots. Its two tusks were found buried at the Kebun Koperasi Felda Umas area. A plantation manager has since been charged in court for refusing to hand over the tusks. Three others accused were also brought to court.

Just a week after Sabah hosted the 10th Asian Elephant Specialist Group meeting in December, another elephant was found dead in Kinabatangan.

The human-elephant conflict in Sabah attracted the attention of non-governmental organisations and its population was estimated to be down to 2,000 in the State. The pygmy elephants in Sabah are a different species compared to their Asian and African cousins.

Deputy Chief Minister cum Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew noted that more than 140 elephants ended up killed in less than 10 years.

A very high number occurred in conflict areas with more than half either shot or due to suspected poisoning, while the rest due to natural causes.

But all hope is not lost for the Borneo pygmy elephant. A subspecies of the Asian elephant inhabits north-eastern Borneo, Indonesia and Malaysia. Its exact origin remains the subject of debate.

In October, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment completed its Elephant Conservation Action Plan 2020-2030 which they hope will provide more insight into engaging better collaboration with plantation owners in efforts to create food corridors and better conservation for the mammals.

That same month, the conservation of iconic wildlife in Kinabatangan received a major boost with the handing over of 230 acres (93 hectares) by Japan’s Saraya Co Ltd and Borneo Conservation Trust (BCT) Japan to the State Government.

The Ministry expressed preparedness to amend and further tighten the penalties for wildlife-related crimes under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

Borneo’s pygmy elephants are a fully protected species as stated in Division 1, Schedule 11 of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

On September, the 2nd International Symposium on Sun Bear Conservation and Management hosted in the State Capital affirmed that sun bears along with Bornean orang-utans and Sunda pangolins in Sabah are a totally protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

The enactment forbids hunting, possession and trade of wildlife species under Schedule 1 and those found guilty could face up to RM250,000 fine and up to five years’ jail.

The Bornean Sun Bear, also known as honey bear, is the smallest bear in the world. Honey, fruits and termites are their favourite food. They are expert climbers and make nests on trees.

Each individual has its own unique chest mark that gives the precious creature its name, the sun bear. Found throughout Southeast Asia, it is estimated that the global population has declined by at least 30 per cent over the past 30 years and is continuing to decline at this rate.

A Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (Perhilitan) analysis estimates that there are only 300 to 500 sun bears left in Malaysia as of 2018. Its population in Sabah and Sarawak is unknown.

Sabah Wildlife Director Augustine Tuuga, during the Sun Bear Conservation Symposium, noted that poaching is currently the biggest threat to sun bears, particularly to feed the ongoing demand for their body parts, including gallbladders, paws, claws and canines.

Apart from poaching, there are also incidents of sun bear cubs being taken from the wild for pet trade in many places across Sabah.

The Department has prosecuted two cases involving sun bears in the State over the past years. One was convicted by court and sentenced to RM50,000 fine and two years’ jail, while the other is still appealing the sentence.

Security forces were also kept on their toes in eradicating smuggling activities which also includes turtle smuggling.

In February, the Malaysian Armed Forces Joint Task Force 2 (ATB 2) soldiers detained three foreigners for catching and killing turtles in the waters off Pulau Ligitan, Semporna.

During the operation, six turtle shells were recovered from the men, aged between 25 and 45-years-old.


Javan Rhino Makes Steady Strides While Sumatran Rhino Population Remains Obscure

By Conservation
Oishimaya Sen Nag, World Atlas | December 7, 2019

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On November 23, Iman, the last Sumatran rhino of Malaysia, died, making international headlines. But while the country is mourning, hope pours in from neighboring Indonesia where the population of Javan rhinos has risen to 72 individuals.

Sumatran Rhino Population Shrouded in Mystery

The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) are both critically endangered species. Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, and poaching have severely decimated the populations of both these rhino species. Once widespread through most of Asia, these rhinos are today confined primarily to the eponymous Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java.

Iman was a female Sumatran rhino, about 25 years old, who was captured in 2014 and placed under extreme protection and care at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary at Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Malaysia’s Sabah state. She died of natural causes.

The number of remaining Sumatran rhinos in the wild is largely unknown as the population is severely fragmented. It is estimated that there are fewer than 100 individuals of this species remaining in the wild, mostly in Indonesia, and around 8 in captivity. Some estimates even put the number as low as 30. The lack of knowledge makes it nearly impossible to monitor the trends in population of this rhino species.

In February, Indonesian authorities arranged an exercise for Sumatran rhino researchers to conduct an official count of the species in the country. Results are believed to arrive in three years’ time. Hopefully, the program will give a more accurate picture of the Sumatran rhinos to allow conservation groups to save them in time.

Javan rhinoceros. (Source: Wikipedia)

Javan Rhino Making Steady Strides

The population of Javan rhinos is, however, under strict monitoring as they survive only in the Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP) on the island of Java, Indonesia.

On Friday, Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry declared in an announcement that the population of Javan rhinos in UKNP had increased to 72 individuals.

The present count obtained through surveys conducted through the end of September exhibits an increase from 68 individuals reported in the last survey. Four new rhino calves were reported in this count! A decade ago, the population of Javan rhinos in UKNP was only 50 but has grown gradually since then. At least one new calf has been counted every year since 2012.

The population in the park appears to have stabilized. Over 20 years have passed without any poaching being reported at the park. The role of the Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) in guarding the world’s last Javan rhinos in UKNP is thus highly commendable.

In 2011, the UKNP authorities launched the Arenga palm removal program that also had positive effects on the resident rhino population. Although the plant occurs naturally in UKNP, it is fast-growing and chokes out other native plants including the favorite food plants of the rhinos. The program was successful in allowing a more secure food resource for the park’s rhinos.

According to the International Rhino Foundation: “The Government of Indonesia and Ujung Kulon National Park have remained steadfast in their commitment to saving the Javan Rhino from extinction. Thanks to these efforts, we have hope for Javan rhinos.”


Time is running out for Southeast Asia

By Conservation, Land conservation
Jeremy Hance,  Mongabay | December 9, 2019

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On Nov. 23, the last Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Malaysia died. Named Iman, she’d lived in captivity in the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo for just over five years. Iman was not only the last rhino in Malaysia, but one of the last of the Bornean subspecies of the Sumatran rhino (D. s. harrissoni).

But Iman’s passing isn’t just another tragedy, and lost opportunity, for her species. It’s also another signal for something bigger: that the heart of our mass extinction crisis lies in Southeast Asia.

The region is undergoing a wildlife decline that’s really unparalleled anywhere else of comparable size. Recently, scientists have declared that tigers are extinct in Laos, after already vanishing from Vietnam and Cambodia. The Indochinese and Malayan populations of the tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) and the Sumatran subspecies (P. t. sondaica), are all on their last stand. The same is true of the Indochinese leopard (Panthera pardus delacouri).

Meanwhile, the last photograph of a saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), or Asian unicorn, on camera trap was taken six years ago. There is now a project hoping to catch and breed them in captivity. But whether conservationists will find any alive anywhere is an open question — officially a couple of hundred are believed to survive — and whether they will find enough to form a captive-breeding population is an even bigger question.

The list goes on: all the big four of Sumatra – elephants, tigers, orangutans, and rhinos – are Critically Endangered. The Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), discovered only in 2017, is existentially imperiled by the Batang Toru dam project in the only home it has. Of the 16 gibbon species evaluated by the IUCN, 15 are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered. At best, fewer than 200 Philippine crocodiles (Crocodylus mindorensis) survive while the Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) is down to only three known individuals, all of them in separate locations.

Tigers, elephants, rhinos, orangutans, leopards, tapir, banteng, dholes — all of the species within these groups are either classified as endangered or critically endangered in the region. In the last 100 years, we’ve already lost the Bali and Javan tigers, and the mainland subspecies of the Sumatran rhino (D. s. lasiotis) as well as the Vietnamese Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus). The kouprey (Bos sauveli), a giant wild ox, has not been seen since 1988 and is probably extinct. Southeast Asia’s megafauna are undergoing a decline likely not seen since the Pleistocene some 15,000 years ago.

But perhaps even more worrisome is that it’s not just the big animals: increasingly it seems like every living animal in the region is imperiled. Innumerable turtle species are being wiped out for food and traditional medicine. Birds are being hunted out of existence to be eaten or traded as illegal pets, even as they lose their forests and wetlands. Meanwhile, many smaller animals, from the slow loris to the pangolin, are being decimated by the illegal wildlife trade.

If you look at data from the IUCN Red List, Southeast Asia also stands out for its sheer numbers of identified threatened species (most remain unidentified at this point). The three nations with the most globally identified threatened species are Madagascar, Ecuador and the U.S. — not surprising, given the first is full of megadiverse and endemic biodiversity, the second contains perhaps the most biodiverse region on Earth, and the third is among the most well-studied and largest nations. But fourth and fifth on that list are Indonesia and Malaysia, respectively. Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines each have more than 600 identified threatened species, putting them on the very high side worldwide. Laos and Myanmar have considerably less, but that’s probably largely due to less research into their species.

Original photo as published by Mongabay: Deforestation in Borneo. Image by Rhett A. Butler

Let’s not forget that Southeast Asia is the region for which the term “empty forest” was coined, denoting a landscape so stripped of animals, so exploited, that while trees and plants may still grow, nothing moves larger than a mouse or a praying mantis. There is little to no bird song, no monkeys crossing the canopy, few mammals in the undergrowth. It’s more a park than a wilderness, and those plant species that are dependent on animals will soon vanish.

The reasons that Southeast Asia is facing an extinction crisis are varied, complicated and, in some cases, unique to each country. But themes emerge. Number one: deforestation. Nowhere else in the world have humans destroyed so much forest so rapidly — all to provide commodities like palm oil, lumber, rubber, paper, tropical wood — in a global economic system whose foundations are waste and consumerism.

For another, there is the truly malignant illegal wildlife trade for Chinese traditional medicine, bushmeat, pets and trinkets. This market has increasingly turned from using guns and bullets to deploying millions of snares, killing indiscriminately across the region’s national parks and last intact wildernesses.

Finally, the human population of Southeast Asia stands at around 655 million. This is more than 8 percent of the world’s population across eleven countries covering only around 4.5 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles). That’s a region half the size of the U.S. with double the number of people. Southeast Asia’s population, however, is within a generation or two of peaking in places; both Malaysia and Vietnam, for example, now have fertility rates at or below replacement levels. Laos has the highest in the region (2.7 children per woman), Singapore the lowest (1.16). This is a glimmer of light for the region’s natural resources and beleaguered wildlife, if only it can hang on.

But it may not be enough time for many. No species, no matter how resilient, can stand up indefinitely to the relentless harrying and industrialized destruction. The number of victims grows greater every year, many as yet unidentified.

So, the citizens of Southeast Asia have to make a decision: Are they OK with losing their iconic species to plantation companies, unscrupulous poachers, sham medicine, and tacky status symbols? Are they OK with nature conservation remaining at the bottom of their governments’ priorities amid such a scale of loss? Are they OK with this generation squandering their children’s natural inheritance, just as recent generations have gambled away our climate stability?

There is no doubt the region faces economic and development challenges — and tough decisions. But let’s not pretend this mass death is about smart development or poverty reduction. Singapore is one the wealthiest countries in the world, while Malaysia has less extreme poverty than the U.S. Poverty rates in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar are still high, but have plunged in recent years.

Nor does the vast destruction of forests and wildlife do much, if anything, for public wealth and well-being. Most of the money from slaughtered wildlife goes not to the local people doing the hunting, but to a black market and regional mafia that’s also involved in trafficking humans and drugs.

Meanwhile, the destruction of the region’s remaining forests, including intentional burning, is often fueled by foreign companies and corruption, and increasingly goes against local wishes (the only time palm oil is really economically beneficial to the public is via smallholders).

In an age of rapid climate catastrophe, surely no economy can survive on the burning of peatlands and destruction of its few remaining rainforests? We can no longer develop just for the sake of “development.” Smart development and conservation of natural resources must be the future, not just in Southeast Asia, but everywhere.

What needs to be done in the region? A lot. And I don’t begin to pretend to have all the answers. But a good place to start would be the region’s governments taking this extinction crisis (and the climate one) seriously and spending more resources on law enforcement and protecting standing forests. At the same time, gains must continue to be made on changing public views on the wiping out of wildlife for sham medicine.

The region’s national parks and wildernesses require better management and more boots on the ground. It may be time for a regional equivalent of something like African Parks to be established in Southeast Asia, an idea recently raised to me by the conservationist Niall McCann.

Conservation groups in the area, especially the small, on-the-ground organizations, desperately need only more funding and resources. Ambitious ideas and bold commitments are needed now more than ever from the international community. And we must also consider more extreme options more quickly. We should not wait decades to install captive-breeding operations, for example, but should begin building insurance populations for many of the near-extinct species as possible. Let’s use the Sumatran rhino and the saola as examples; for both species, conservationists probably delayed much longer than they should have.

Let’s not kid ourselves. None of this will be easy and all of it will require public support. We get the leaders we vote for. The public in this region need to decide if it’s worth saving their orangutans and tigers, their elephants and rhinos, their pangolins and dholes. There is still time today. But there may be none tomorrow.

Iman’s death closes another door for Sumatran rhino conservation, leaving only a single known Bornean individual of the Sumatran rhino left on Earth, and one less female for a species that at best numbers only around 80 animals.

If aggressive change isn’t made, one day soon Indonesians and Vietnamese, Filipinos and Malaysians, will wake up and find there is nothing much left of their forests — their whole region will be truly empty. It will no longer just be empty forests, but empty landscapes from the Mekong Delta to Sumatra, and the Cardamom Mountains to the Cordillera Central.

What will be the fate of Asian rhinos?

By Conservation
Zhao Ying, CGTN | December 4, 2019

See link for photos & graphic.

The gigantic size and armor-like skin make rhinoceros seem to come from the distant dinosaur age. Rhinos once roamed across Asia because they favor the warm and humid climate here. Among five rhino species in the world, three are distributed in Asia. The wild ones are now mainly found in just four countries – India, Nepal, Bhutan and Indonesia.

In November, the death of last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia declared the extinction of the species in the country, arousing people’s attention on the fate of Sumatran rhino and its two cousins in Asia.

How are Asian rhinos now?

In Asia, there are three rhino species, Sumatran rhino, Javan rhino and Indian rhino. You can easily distinguish them by the horn and body size. The Sumatran rhino is the smallest and the only one in Asia that have two horns. The Javan rhino and the Indian rhino both have only one horn, but the Indian rhino is larger.

The Sumatran rhino has been on Earth longer than any living mammals. It is one of the most primitive group, the Dicerorhinini, which came into being about 20 million years ago. The rhino still retains the shaggy hairs on body and ears, resembling its extinct woolly ancestors.

Original photo as published by CGTN.

After the last captive male and female Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia died this year, there are fewer than 80 of them left on the planet, all in Indonesia, according to the International Rhino Foundation. The rhino species is listed as critically endangered by IUCN. Apart from eight captive ones, there are four isolated wild groups in Indonesia. One group of around 15 is in Borneo, and the other three groups all live in national parks on Sumatra Island.

Similar to the dire situation of the Sumatran rhino, the Javan rhino is even more critically endangered, with an estimated population of 68. They can now only be found in Ujung Kulon National Park on the western tip of the island of Java in Indonesia. The good news is that its number is quite stable for the time being.

For the Indian rhino, things are getting better. Back in 1900, there were fewer than 200 left. Years of conservation efforts in India and Nepal have brought its population back to over 3,550 now. The species is listed as vulnerable by IUCN. The Indian rhinos especially love to immerse themselves in water like hippos. The humid tropical rainforest is their favorite habitat.

What’s pushing Asian rhinos to the brink of extinction?

As the world’s second largest land animal, rhinos barely have any predators except human beings. Over the years, they have suffered from poaching and habitat loss. Their horns are the main target.

In traditional medicines, the powdered horns are believed to have heat-clearing and detoxifying effects. However, the horns are just composed matted hair and fibrous keratin, the same substance found in fingernails. Once a rhino loses it horn, it won’t be dead, but the horn grows back at a slow rate, about 7.6 centimeters long per year.

Apart from that, horns and other parts of rhinos are made into luxurious decorations, and regarded as a symbol of wealth and social status in Asia. In an auction, one rhino horn libation cup from the Qing Dynasty was sold at 18.5 million yuan, indicating their popularity in the market.

Asian rhinos are also threatened by shrinking habitat due to human activities. The development of logging and agriculture industries has pushed them to live in small and scattered areas, which is hard for them to breed. Besides, it takes 16 months for a female rhino to give birth to new calves. The slow breeding rate in contrast of its decreasing population makes the conservation efforts urgent.

Is there any hope for Asian rhinos?

In 2017, Indonesia launched a breeding program for captive Sumatran rhinos at Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra. For Javan rhinos, Indonesian government planed to enlarge the current sole habitat at the Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, or to find a second refugee for them as a tsunami hit the park in 2018.

In Nepal, the protection of Indian rhinos is quite a success in the last decade. From 2014 to 2017, the rangers in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has kept a zero poaching record for 1,071 days. Besides, India and Nepal signed an agreement to cooperate on biodiversity conservation earlier this year, including the transboundary protection of species like the Indian rhino.

As long as conservation efforts are ongoing, the Asian rhinos still stand a chance to come back.


Let Iman’s fate not be in vain (Malaysia)

By Conservation
Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, Opinion/Letters, The New Straits Times | November 29, 2019

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As we are still mourning the death of Iman, the country’s last Sumatran rhino, we must bear in mind that more animals will be extinct if no drastic steps are taken to address issues affecting our wildlife including killing and poaching.

The female rhino, estimated to be around 25 years old, died last Saturday at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah.

Original photo as published by New Straits Times: To ensure our endangered wildlife do not become extinct there must be greater awareness.

In May, Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino died after suffering organ failure.

The rhino is listed as critically endangered by the World Wildlife Fund. The International Rhino Foundation estimates that there are less than 80 alive in the world.

All parties should learn a lesson from the extinction of Sumatran rhinoceros in the country and take up the responsibility to protect all endangered species.

The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) has said that this is important to ensure the matter does not recur in the future for other endangered animals.

Among the main factors related to the extinction of our wildlife is the loss of their original habitat due to deforestation as well as poaching.

Other factors include weak monitoring and enforcement, lack of public awareness and scientific studies, inadequate financial allocation and expertise for management of wildlife.

Existing laws should be tightened while the enforcement measures strengthened to help protect endangered species such as the tiger, elephant, seladang, tapir, sun bear and orang utan.

All enforcement agencies must also strengthen cooperation to tackle this problem. Wildlife trafficking takes place around the world with countries with high biodiversity like Malaysia being the source, transit areas and hubs for smuggled species.

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime estimates that the global wildlife trafficking industry is worth between US$7 billion and US$23 billion annually.

It is unfortunate that a 2016 report by Wildlife Justice Commission revealed that Kuala Lumpur is the easiest port to move illegal wildlife.

It also revealed that it costs traffickers 50 per cent less to move contraband through KLIA and klia2, compared with Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.

There is an urgent need to review and tighten all existing laws, especially those pertaining to animal poaching. The government should expedite its plan to amend the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 to imprison poachers for more than 10 years and fine them up to RM5 million upon conviction.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) has also made a clarion call that without serious action, the Bornean pygmy elephant will suffer the same fate as the Sumatran rhino.

The killings of Bornean pygmy elephants for their tusks have shown how serious the poaching problem is, as well as the continuing irresponsible land exploitation in Sabah.

Despite harsher punishments and improved wildlife enforcement capabilities under the new Act, poaching continues to be rampant.

SAM believed this was because of the absence of arrests of high-level individuals in connection with these seizures. The government should therefore consider mandatory imprisonment not only for poachers but also those charged and proven guilty for abetting the culprits.

We must also take into account the police’s recommendation for mandatory whipping for criminals involved in wildlife smuggling and tighten conditions for the issuance of firearms licence and hunting permits.

Treat wildlife crime seriously as stiffer penalties alone are not enough. The government should strengthen enforcement agencies collaboration to check and prevent poaching activities. We should not allow more species to face the same fate as the Sumatran rhino or that of the leatherback turtle, Malayan tiger and gaur which are in peril.

Protecting wildlife and our nature’s treasure trove is not only the responsibility of the enforcement agencies but requires collaboration across non-governmental organisations, government, corporate stakeholders and local communities.

We must take immediate action to help conserve our biodiversity. The authorities must also tackle wildlife roadkill and smuggling activities which have affected their population. Development projects also have an impact on wildlife. For example, the construction of the East Coast Rail Link which will cut through and dissect hundreds of hectares of protected forests in the Central Forest Spine.

Unless adequate and effective measures are taken to protect wildlife in the affected areas, the project will have a huge impact on our environment and eco-system.

For the relevant laws to succeed, there must be public education and awareness efforts.

Such efforts are also in line with the theme for this year’s Earth Day celebration which is “Protect Our Species”, intended to educate and raise awareness about the accelerating rate of extinction of various species of fauna and flora.

Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye is an animal welfare activist in Kuala Lumpur.

How many rhinos is enough rhinos? (Nepal)

By Conservation, Land conservation
Sonia Awale, The Nepali Times | November 29, 2019

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Despite Nepal achieving zero rhino poaching for the past five years, conservationists say the country should not let its guard down given the official extinction of the Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia last week.

There has been a rise in rhino deaths in Nepal recent years, for various reasons such as natural death, overcrowding in protected areas and human-animal conflict due to habitat encroachment. But the biggest threat to rhino conservation in the post-poaching era is the growing infrastructure that crisscrosses nature reserves.

Conservationists interviewed for this article said sustaining rhino numbers will be even more challenging because the animal’s floodplain habitat is affected by upstream infrastructure development, pollution and disease, as well as the impact of climate change.

In order to assess future priorities for wildlife conservation in general and rhino protection in particular, the department of national parks and wildlife conservation is currently conducting a baseline study of the carrying capacity of Chitwan National Park for rhinos. A census of the total rhino population will also be done next year.

Original photo as published by Nepali Times. (Photo: KUNDA DIXIT)

The population of the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros was estimated at 1,000 in Chitwan until the 1950s. But with hunting, poaching and transmigration of people from the mountains to the valley after the eradication of malaria in the 1960s, the number plummeted to less than 100.

This prompted the government to establish an armed Rhino Patrol Unit in 1961, and in 1973 it declared the remaining prime rhino habitats along the Rapti, Narayani and Reu rivers as Chitwan National Park.

Over the years, successful efforts by the government and conservation agencies translated into a gradual rise in the rhino population. Of the 645 rhinos counted in the last census in 2015, 605 individuals were found in Chitwan National Park alone, with the rest scattered in Parsa, Bardia and Shuklaphanta reserves.

Climate change is the latest threat to wildlife, with rhinos particularly affected because weather extremes have aggravated water scarcity, flash floods and prey decline. A major flood in 2017 washed away about a dozen rhinos to India, and only seven of them were rescued and returned to Chitwan. Changes in vegetation, due to both human and natural causes, is leading to loss of grasslands, a prime rhino habitat.

Next year’s rhino census can determine the effectiveness of past conservation efforts and help to craft a future plan of action. The census is conducted every 4-5 years, but the 2019 census was postponed due to lack of funding.

The current carrying-capacity study is also expected to provide key information for park managers and the government that will feed into future rhino conservation initiatives. It will answer key questions like whether Chitwan has exceeded its carrying capacity for 600 rhinos and if so, if the animals can be moved to other national parks as they have been in the past.

Said Bishnu Prasad Shrestha of the department of national parks and wildlife conservation: “At the moment we are in the planning and coordinating stage for the census. Together with the ongoing carrying-capacity study, it will give us a future direction and help us formulate strategies moving forward for the conservation of rhinos in Nepal.”


WWF-M’sia: Loss of Iman signifies time to focus on protecting wildlife

By Antipoaching, Conservation
The Borneo Post | November 25, 2019

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KOTA KINABALU: WWF-Malaysia is saddened by the unfortunate loss of Sabah’s last surviving rhino, Iman, who died on Saturday after a long battle with cancer.

Iman’s death follows Tam, who died earlier this year due to kidney and liver damage.

The loss of Iman signifies the complete loss of the Sumatran rhino in Sabah. The hope of ever seeing this species in the wild is now forever gone.

Over the years, WWF-Malaysia has worked together with the government and other non-governmental organisations to help curb the extinction of the Sumatran rhinoceros in Sabah. The organisations have set up camera traps in search for rhinos, which led to the detection of Tam in 2009 and then Iman in 2014.

Original photo as published by The Borneo Post: Sophia Lim.

In a last bid to save the Sumatran rhino, the Sabah state government, WWF-Malaysia and the Borneo Rhino Alliance met with Indonesian government officials to outline key details in a much-needed collaboration between Malaysia and Indonesia in rhino conservation.

“Malaysia is home to some of the most iconic wildlife species in the world. This includes the Malayan tiger, the Bornean elephant, the Bornean orangutan and many more.

“While we can do little to prevent the loss of the Sumatran rhinos on our lands, we can still do so much for our other remaining species, all of whom are in danger of facing similar fates of extinction if we don’t address the threats that they are facing,” said WWF-Malaysia’s CEO, Sophia Lim.

One of the biggest threats to wildlife is the threat of poaching and illegal wildlife trade. Every day, wildlife like tigers, banteng, pangolins, sun bears and elephants face the threat of poachers who hunt them as part of a lucrative business.

Tackling issues such as poaching requires a concerted effort between all parties – the government, non-governmental organisations and the general public. WWF-Malaysia urges the government to further enhance the effort to eradicate poaching and act fast in bolstering efforts to preserve the remaining wildlife that we have.

“We are heartened that the Royal Malaysian Police has stepped up in collaboration with other agencies to patrol the forest, investigate and make arrest with intelligence provided by Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak Forestry Corporation and Forest Department Sarawak. We have seen some successes in poachers being arrested and seizures of wildlife meat from the makers. This is but a tip of the iceberg of an illegal economy worth billions of dollars.

“Wildlife crime is not just a local problem but is part of an international wildlife trade syndicate associated with drug and human trafficking, as well as money laundering. As such, the call to set up a Wildlife Crime Bureau within the Royal Malaysian Police is indeed timely to collaborate with international agencies such as Interpol, Traffic International and regional wildlife hubs set up by WWF for Africa and Asia.

“While we must collectively address the threat of poaching, we must also work on saving the natural habitats that harbour our wildlife species. The remaining forests that we have should be retained either as protected areas for wildlife sanctuaries, or forest reserves where harvesting of timber is done in a refined and sustainable manner that allows wildlife to co-exist,” Lim stressed.

“Where our forests are fragmented, wildlife corridors should be established to enable breeding among different population groups to maintain healthy gene pools. Isolated populations inevitably face inbreeding, and in the long-term face extinction. Government needs to formulate the policies and enact regulations, scientists and conservationists to identify the locations, and private sector to set aside land for the restoration of forests into wildlife corridors.

In Peninsular Malaysia the Central Forest Spine Masterplan informs on fragmented forests that need to be connected. Likewise, the Heart of Borneo Initiative in Sabah and Sarawak calls for a corridor project connecting protected areas and forest reserves through sustainable land use.

“We need better policies and stronger legislations to regulate wildlife conservation into land uses that are administered by different agencies according to various laws. On our part, we will continue to work closely with the various government agencies to coordinate implementation efforts on the ground that will hopefully curb the loss of more wildlife,” said Lim.

“Ultimately, ensuring the survival of wildlife is a responsibility that is shared by all. It is only in collective effort that we will be able to keep our wildlife in our forest and our seas.

“Our loss of a beautiful species in Sabah is a sobering reminder that nature is not invincible, and a desperate wake up call to protect other wildlife from suffering the same fate,” she said.

Carcass of last Sumatran rhino to be preserved (Malaysia)

By Conservation
The Daily Express | November 25, 2019

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KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department (JHL) plans to preserve the carcass of Iman, the last surviving Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, which died on Saturday afternoon, and hand it over to the Sabah Museum.

Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) Director Augustine Tuuga said the carcass is still at the Borneo Rhinoceros Sanctuary in the Tabin Wlidlife Reserve in Lahad Datu. “We will try to preserve (the carcass) and I plan to hand it over to the Sabah Museum,” he said Sunday.

Original photo as published by Daily Express.

Iman was captured in 2014 in the Danum Valley, Lahad Datu and is estimated to be 25 years old. The female rhinoceros’s death at 5.35pm on Saturday was announced by the Sabah Wildlife Department in a statement.

Iman’s death marked the extinction of the species (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Malaysia.

According to Tuuga, she died due growing pressure of a tumour into the bladder

Tuuga said the move to preserve the carcass is for it to be exhibited at the Sabah Museum to provide information to the public on the existence of the species in Malaysia, especially in Sabah.

“We want to make it known that we used to have the species in Malaysia, and it (Iman) was the last,” he added.

He said Iman’s carcass would be preserved like that of Tam’s, the sole surviving male Sumatran rhino, which died last May due to old age and multiple organ failure stemming from kidney and liver damage.

Tuuga said the egg cells, which were harvested from Iman, were still preserved and the department hoped to collaborate with the Indonesian government to provide new rhinoceros sperm to infertilise the eggs through the in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) method.

Last October, the preserved Sumatran male rhinoceros’ carcass was on display at the Sabah Museum in conjunction with the “Head of State and Tam, The Last Male Rhino” exhibition held to celebrate the 66th official birthday of Yang di-Pertua Negeri Sabah Tun Juhar Mahiruddin.

Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino dies, leaving Indonesia as the final refuge

By Conservation
Basten Gokkon, Mongabay | November 25, 2019

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The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is now extinct in Malaysia following the death of its last captive individual, Iman, over the weekend. The fate of this critically endangered species now rests with a tiny population in Indonesia.

Iman, a female rhino, died on the late afternoon of Nov. 23 at a captive facility in the Malaysian Bornean state of Sabah, according to the local wildlife department.

“Its death was a natural one, and the immediate cause has been categorised as shock,” said Christina Liew, the state environment minister, said as quoted by local media.

Original photo as published by Mongabay: Iman was the last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia. Image courtesy of the Borneo Rhino Alliance. (BORA)

“Iman was given the very best care and attention ever since her capture in March 2014 right up to the moment she passed. No one could have done more,” Liew added.

In her last few days, Iman’s health had deteriorated, according to news reports. She had been battling massive blood loss from a ruptured uterine tumor over the past couple of years, a condition that almost killed her on previous occasions.

“But we knew that she was starting to suffer significant pain from the growing pressure of the tumors into the bladder,” Augustine Tuuga, the director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, said as quoted by local media.

Iman was believed to be 25 years old when she died. She was named after a river near where she was discovered and captured in Sabah’s Danuw Valley for a captive-breeding program.

“You are the 5th Sumatran rhino the world has lost in the past 5 years, and the very last rhino in Malaysia,” the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), a wildlife conservation group deeply involved with Malaysian authorities in caring for the captive rhinos in Sabah, said in a statement. “You were also the sweetest soul, who brought so much joy and hope to all of us.

“We are in so much pain right now, but we are thankful that you are no longer in pain,” it added. “May we be as strong as you in our urgent fight to save your species. May we be as courageous as you to never give up.”

As they did with the previous captive rhinos in Malaysia, all of which died of illness without ever managing to breed in captivity, conservationists have stored cell cultures from Iman. They hope that, when the technology is in place, these cells can be turned into viable embryos and transplanted into a surrogate rhino. They also plan to preserve Iman’s body for exhibition at Sabah Museum, according to the state’s wildlife department.

Conservations had previously attempted to produce rhinos from Iman and Tam, the last male rhino in Malaysia, who died earlier this year from old age. These attempts included natural breeding and assisted reproduction technology. But Iman’s uterine tumor, which was first detected when she was captured, prevented conception. Last month, experts attempted in vitro fertilization of eggs harvested from Iman with Tam’s sperm, but the experiment failed to result in an embryo due to the low quality of the semen.

“There is limited knowledge about Sumatran rhino reproductive physiology and converting cells in a laboratory into viable embryos is complex,” Susie Ellis, the executive director of the International Rhino Foundation, said in a statement. “Still, there is hope for the survival of Sumatran rhinos.”

Conservationists in Malaysia had also hoped to try fertilizing Iman’s eggs with sperm from rhinos held at a captive-breeding site in Indonesia’s Sumatra. And although both countries have in principle agreed to a mutual bilateral partnership — a prospect that Indonesia had ignored for years — no joint breeding programs have yet to materialize.

Indonesia insists that the best option is for Malaysia to send over egg cells for the IVF attempt, and if successful, the embryo can be transplanted into a surrogate rhino in Sumatra.

Liew said Sabah would continue to pursue the partnership with Indonesia despite Iman’s death, as it could include collaborations in management of female Sumatran rhinos with reproductive pathology, safe harvesting of gametes from living rhinos, and cell culture.

Mongabay’s reached out to Indonesia’s environment ministry for comment on Iman’s death and the future of the partnership with Malaysia. The ministry did not respond by the time this article was published.

Iman’s death means there are now no more Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia — either in captivity or in the wild. The country declared in 2015 that the species was extinct in the wild, with only the captive population remaining. Between 1987 and 2014, Malaysia had captured over a dozen wild rhinos.

“The passing of Iman, Malaysia’s last known Sumatran rhino, marks a tragic development for this species,” Jon Paul Rodriguez, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, said in a statement.

“Iman’s death underscores the urgency of the global community’s efforts to save the Sumatran rhino from extinction and we are committed to continuing our work to support the government of Indonesia’s Emergency Action Plan to save this species,” he added.

Indonesia developed the plan in 2017 to capture rhinos and corral them into large, semi-natural breeding and research facilities, modeled on the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Way Kambas National Park, in Sumatra’s Lampung province. The action plan also calls for breeding programs between captive rhinos. Two rhino calves have been born at Way Kambas, both conceived by natural means. Indonesian conservationists also hope to try an IVF attempt using eggs harvested from a lone female at a second SRS facility in Indonesian Borneo. They plan to fertilize it with sperm from one of the males at the Sumatran facility, in a bid to boost the species’ gene pool.

The critically endangered species was decimated by poaching and habitat loss in the past, but today observers say the small and fragmented nature of their populations, and a correspondingly low birthrate, is the biggest threat to their survival. Few of the remaining populations left in the wild are believed to be large enough to support natural reproduction, and isolated individuals have been found to be prone to developing reproductive pathologies like the uterine tumors suffered by Iman.

With no more than 80 Sumatran rhinos left on the planet, the species’ last hope lies in Indonesia. The country has eight individuals in captivity: seven in Sumatra, including the two captive-born calves, and one in Borneo.

Iman’s worsening condition makes it difficult for egg harvesting (Malaysia)

By Conservation
Mohd Izham Unnip Abdullah & Olivia Miwil, The New Straits Times | November 21, 2019

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KOTA KINABALU: There is a hiccup in a plan to harvest eggs from terminally-ill Sumatran rhinoceros for in-vitro fertilisation to save the species from extinction.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said although the female rhino, Iman, is still producing eggs, her condition could be deteriorating further due to harvesting process.

Original photo as published by New Straits Times: The rhino has been having cancer since she was found in March 2014. Although the tumour is not malignant, it has spread to the urinary bladder. (NSTP/file pic)

The rhino has been having cancer since she was found in March 2014. Although the tumour is not malignant, it has spread to the urinary bladder.

No surgery was made to remove it as it is deemed as dangerous with inevitable major blood loss that would result in her quick demise.

Iman is reported to have lost 44kg and under supplements as she is not eating her normal amount of food now.

“Looking at her worsening state, it is difficult for us to harvest the egg as we fear the procedure will inflict more pain on her.

“As of now, her chance to undergo the process is slim. However, we pray that she will get better under current treatment,” he said when contacted.

Augustine added that it would have to wait for next cycle next month, and hormone therapy will be administered for 25-year-old Iman to produce eggs.

He explained that the hormone meant for egg production would have effects on the tumour.

“Therefore, the team has to find balance in the reproductive and cancer treatment,” he said, adding that the last rhino in the country is now being cared for at Tabin Wildlife reserve in Lahad Datu.

Augustine added that a German expert is ready to be called for the egg harvesting process should Iman’s condition shows any improvement.

There was an attempt to fertilise Iman’s egg two months ago in Sandakan but the sperm quality was poor.

The team had used frozen semen from male rhino Tam, who had died due to old age and organs failure in May this year.

Yesterday, State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew had said the state government is hoping to expedite legality process with Indonesia to fertilise Iman’s egg with the Republic’s male rhino and surrogate female rhino.