Mammals Archives - Rhino Review

Marcellus Adi Riyanto: The Indonesian vet who lived for the Sumatran rhino

By Conservation
by Mongabay| June 19,  2020

Read the original story here.

Camera traps monitor a handful of the world’s remaining Sumatran rhinos in Sumatra’s Way Kambas National Park. Wildlife managers tend to a female rhino at a breeding center in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, hoping she can help ensure a future for this critically endangered species. Like many efforts to protect Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Indonesia, these programs were made possible by Marcellus Adi Riyanto, an Indonesian conservationist and veterinarian who died April 27 in Kalimantan.

“Marcel’s contribution to Sumatran rhino research and conservation is enormous,” says Den Danang Wibowo, a staffer at The Alliance of Forest Integrated Conservation (ALeRT), the community-oriented conservation coalition founded by Marcellus. “Information about the Sumatran rhino that has flowed to us to date is one of his masterpieces.”

Marcellus was at the vanguard of veterinary and reproductive research on this species in captivity in Indonesia. As a veterinary student at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, Marcellus was riveted by rhinos while researching them for his thesis at Jakarta’s Ragunan Zoo. He graduated in 1983 and fulfilled his calling to work with rhinos by joining Yayasan Mitra Rhino, the country’s first organization dedicated to these animals.

Marcellus arrived as a vet at the Way Kambas Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in the late ’90s, says the International Rhino Foundation’s Indonesia coordinator, Inov Sectionov, who was Marcellus’s colleague at the sanctuary for a decade. While serving as a veterinarian, Marcellus supported community-based wildlife conservation initiatives. In 2000, Marcellus became the facility’s first manager. He conducted surveys of the park’s rhinos, and presented an array of conservation talks.

He catalyzed Indonesian knowledge on the species, not only through his own studies but also through empowering visiting students to pursue theirs, on diet, behavior and additional topics, Sectionov says.

“He was a workaholic, and he loved rhinos very much, which influenced me,” Sectionov said, recalling Marcellus’s huge collection of rhino T-shirts, toys and trinkets. “At the time, not many vets wanted to spend life in the forest for wildlife. Most worked with domestic animals. Marcel tried to change the paradigm with rhino conservation. Nowadays, a lot of vets work with wildlife in Indonesia. Marcel gave a good example for the young generation of vets.”

Marcellus stands with ALeRT staff in Way Kambas. Marcellus left his position with SRS in 2009, going on to found his own organization, The Alliance of Forest Integrated Conservation (ALeRT), with which he continued to work in Way Kambas. Image courtesy of ALeRT.

In 2009, Marcellus left his position at the SRS and went on to establish ALeRT. As its president and program manager of a debt-for-nature grant for Way Kambas, he oversaw forest restoration and rhino monitoring in the park.

“Marcel was patient, helpful, open and provided lots of input for his team,” Wibowo says, adding that his boss taught him the importance of optimism and serving others. “He was a father figure for us.”

Given his leadership at the SRS, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and WWF Indonesia asked Marcellus to plan another sanctuary in Kalimantan following the 2016 rediscovery of Sumatran rhinos there. He directed disease surveillance and more for rhinos in West Kutai district, in the province of East Kalimantan. There, he collaborated with the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency, WWF, schools and other entities, until the completion of the 500-hectare (1,235-acre) sanctuary, where the government intends to breed captive wild rhinos. ALeRT took over its management from WWF last year.

“I see him as incredibly determined,” said Claire Oelrichs, founder and president of the nonprofit Save Indonesian Endangered Species Fund, which partnered with Marcellus for years on various projects in Way Kambas. “He built up ALeRT from a local group that got together in a restaurant to something that Indonesia asked to run that project of capturing rhinos.”

Marcellus crosses a stream in Way Kambas. Following his death in April 2020, Indonesia’s conservation community mourned the loss of an effective and innovative champion of the Sumatran Rhino. Image courtesy of ALeRT.

In recent months, Marcellus was aiding Sumatran Rhino Rescue — the coordinated global effort to save the species from extinction — by planning a new SRS in East Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra, and an artificial intelligence-based facial recognition app to better count, track, determine sex and assess reproduction in rhinos. These undertakings, which include gathering photos of the animals to train the software, continue today “to honor his struggle,” Wibowo said.

Marcellus became ill and died five days after his 55th birthday. The cause of death is unclear; he tested negative for COVID-19, said his friend Dicky Tri Sutanto, a Way Kambas staff member since 2005. Dicky said that despite Marcellus’s significant achievements, he always remained down-to-earth.  “Until the last day … he was the same person,” Dicky said.

Oelrichs remembers “his dedication to Sumatran rhinos over a lifetime. He was lowkey, yet he worked very much in the international world. He was a cheery, funny, lovely person, just so likeable and more creative than most scientists.”

But what made him an outstanding conservationist, his colleagues say, was his extreme focus.

“He spent more time with rhinos than his wife, I bet,” Sectionov said. “Till he passed away, he consistently worked for the Sumatran rhino.”

Banner image: Marcellus Adi Riyanto feeds a rhino at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park, courtesy of ALeRT.

A new sanctuary for the Sumatran rhino is delayed amid COVID-19 measures (Indonesia)

By Conservation
Junaidi Hanafiah, Mongabay| May 27, 2020

Read the original story here.

BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA: A much-anticipated plan to establish a new rhino-breeding sanctuary in northern Sumatra is one of many that has been put on hold in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed facility is a top priority for Indonesia’s conservation plan to rescue the world’s last remaining Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) through a network of captive-breeding facilities. One already exists in southern Sumatra, inside Way Kambas National Park, and authorities planned another for a forest area in the Leuser Ecosystem in Aceh province, in the island’s north, expected to be completed by 2021.

For the past year, officials and experts — from the environment ministry, local government, academia and NGOs — have been working on the permits, feasibility and environmental studies, and developing the designs, including the detailed engineering design (DED).

“If it wasn’t for the pandemic, the DED would’ve been done in March 2020,” said Dedi Yansyah, the wildlife protection coordinator at the Leuser Conservation Forum, one of the NGOs involved in the plan.

Indonesia confirmed its first cases of COVID-19 in early March. Since then, the country has recorded the second-highest number of deaths from the disease in East Asia (behind only China­), even amid widespread measures to curb the spread of the virus, including stay-at-home orders and grounding of flights.

Harapan, a captive male Sumatran rhino, with a keeper at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park. Image by Rahmadi Rahmad/Mongabay Indonesia.

The planned rhino sanctuary in Leuser will cover 100 hectares (250 acres) of an ecosystem that’s also the only place on Earth that’s home to rhinos, tigers, orangutans and elephants. Agus Irianto, the head of the Aceh provincial conservation agency (BKSDA), said the area in question is a mosaic of logging forest, oil palm concession, and non-forest land. He said permits to acquire the logging forest and non-forest area were nearly completed; the agency is also in discussions with the oil palm concession holder to acquire that land.

“Certainly, [COVID-19] has affected the activities and timeline that were previously arranged,” Agus said.

An environment ministry official said an initial batch of at least five rhinos would be captured from the wild in Aceh and moved to the sanctuary to kick off the captive-breeding program there. The Leuser Ecosystem is touted by experts as the most promising habitat for wild rhinos because it’s believed to have the largest population of the species, at about 12 individuals. (Estimates for the Sumatran rhino’s total population range from 30 to 80.) But conservationists still understand little about the mountainous area, and the incidence of poaching there is believed to be higher than elsewhere.

Indonesia’s captive-breeding program currently has eight Sumatran rhinos in two sanctuaries: seven Way Kambas National Park, and one in the Kelian forest, in Indonesian Borneo.

Rhino experts around the world decided only in 2017 that the captive breeding of Sumatran rhinos, from both Sumatra and Borneo, was the only viable option to save the species, which is now found only in Indonesia after the death of Malaysia’s last captive rhino. The species once ranged across Southeast Asia, from the Himalayas in Bhutan and India, to southern China and down the Malay Peninsula. But it has been decimated by a series of factors, from poaching to habitat loss and, more recently, insufficient births.

Harapan, a captive male Sumatran rhino, at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park. Image by Junaidi Hanafi/Mongabay Indonesia.

The initiative agreed to in 2017 mirrors a similar effort in the 1980s to capture Sumatran rhinos for breeding. That program, however, collapsed a decade later after more than half of the animals died without any calves being born. But a string of successful captive births in both the United States and Indonesia, and a growing consensus that the species will go extinct without intervention, have laid the groundwork for the latest captive-breeding effort.