Sabah 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.


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.

Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino dying

By Conservation
Julia Chan, Malay Mail | November 20, 2019

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KOTA KINABALU: The last Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia, a female named Iman, is terminally ill and may have only a few more weeks to live, Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew disclosed today.

She said the rhino is being watched by veterinarians round the clock now as her health is deteriorating steadily.

According to wildlife vet Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin, tumours in Iman’s uterus, detected upon her capture in March 2014, have spread to her bladder and cannot be removed due to high risks to her immediate life.

Original photo as published by Malaymail.com: Iman the rhino is being watched by veterinarians round the clock now as her health is deteriorating steadily. (Picture courtesy of Sabah Wildlife Department)

“Although the tumours are not malignant, they are spreading to her urinary bladder. The vets tell me that there is no way to halt the growth of these tumours, and surgery to remove them always was and still is too dangerous ― there would be inevitable major blood loss that would result in her quick demise,” Liew told a news conference here.

The news also means expediting the state’s wildlife agreement with Indonesia to run in vitro fertilisation that could potentially fertilise Iman’s eggs with a male rhino from Indonesia’s Sumatra.

The Sumatran rhino is the smallest species still living today and is said to be the closest to the extinct woolly rhinoceros.

Wildlife magazine National Geographic estimates there are fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos in the wild today.

Liew said the Sabah government is still committed to working with Indonesia to preserve the species, adding she hope to expedite bilateral meetings to next week.

“We want to play our role to help prevent what is emerging as the first mammal species extinction of the 21st-century,” she said.

She added that a memorandum of understanding with Indonesia is nearly ready to be inked. The agreement is to collaborate on research, reproductive biology, husbandry and exchange of knowledge and experience.

“This needs to be done quickly as possible as time is of the essence at this point. It’s critical we do this now,” she said, stressing that Iman is on the brink of death.

Iman, 25, shed some 44kg last week. Her weight dropped from 476kg due to her loss of appetite.

“She is not eating her normal amount and is being given supplements. The situation reminds us of the case of Puntung, who was euthanised on June 4, 2017, because her squamous cell carcinoma was incurable and she was in pain,” Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga told reporters.

Tuuga said that wildlife experts are now eyeing another egg extraction when her reproductive cycle allows, but the problem was that medication given to prevent her tumours was also reducing her ability to produce eggs.

“Realistically, she can go at any time, but hopefully we can help her survive,” he said.

In the past, Sabah has tried to inseminate Iman’s egg with the frozen sperm from deceased male rhino Tam who died in May, but the low quality of each did not result in a successful embryo.

Since then, efforts have doubled to save the species by linking up with Indonesia, who has a small population of rhinos in the Way Kambas, Sumatra which they are also trying to breed.

Sabah has watched their last two captive rhinos in recent history die under the watchful eye of experts despite constant care without any successful breeding.

Sabah to continue asking Indonesia for rhino sperm

By Science and technology
Avila Geraldine, The New Straits Times | October 15, 2019

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KOTA KINABALU: Following a futile in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment on egg retrieved from Malaysia’s last remaining Sumatran female rhino Iman, Sabah is hopeful that Indonesia will help with providing new rhinoceros sperm.

Although the long-awaited effort to produce a baby Sumatran rhino via IVF has failed, Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew said they would continue requesting for support from Indonesia to save the species from extinction.

The state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister said discussions with Indonesian authority were held during Liew’s visit to Jakarta in August, with regards to the possibility of obtaining sperm from its male rhinos.

“We are communicating with them via email in a daily basis. We have also informed them (on the failed IVF treatment). If it does not succeed this time, we will continue working on it,” she said, speaking to reporters after the launch of “Head of State and Tam, The Last Male Rhino” exhibition in conjunction with the 66th official birthday of Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Juhar Mahiruddin at the state museum here.

Original photo as published by New Straits Times: Following a futile in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment on egg retrieved from Malaysia’s last remaining Sumatran female rhino Iman, Sabah is hopeful that Indonesia will help with providing new rhinoceros sperm. (NSTP/courtesy JHL SABAH)

Earlier, New Straits Times reported that the fertilised cell degenerated within days after being injected with Tam’s thawed-out sperm. It is learnt that the egg cell had failed to divide after fertilisation and no embryo was formed.

Sabah wildlife director Augustine Tuuga said the IVF treatment procedure was carried out on Oct 1 and the cell was incubated for 72 hours with no positive outcome.

“We don’t really understand why it failed. What we have gathered from the experts is that possibly Tam’s sperm that was not of good quality; it was harvested for too long.

“We just have to keep trying and with improvement (to the process). For example, we want to secure sperm from young rhinos (in Indonesia) if possible. Hopefully it will be a success one day,” he said.

At the moment, Tuuga said getting new sperm could take time as Sabah and Indonesia had yet to sign the Memorandum of Understanding and Implementation Agreement.

Tam, which died in May due to kidney and liver failure, had its semen collected in 2015 and preserved in liquid nitrogen. Tam was estimated to be approximately 35 years old.

Its body has since been preserved and currently put on display at the museum as part of the effort to educate the public about the last male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia.

In Aug 2010, Tam was captured by a wildlife team at the Kretam oil palm plantation in Tawau. At the time of its capture, the rhinoceros was thought to be in its mid-20s. Tam was taken to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve where it had lived ever since.

There were several attempts in the past to breed Tam with a female rhino Puntung, but to no avail. In 2017, Puntung was euthanised after suffering from incurable cancer.

With Puntung and Tam’s death, Malaysia is now left with one female Sumatran rhinoceros Iman, captured in 2014.

Iman appears to be the last Sumatran rhinoceros that was found in the wild. Since her rescue, no other Sumatran rhinoceros has been detected in Sabah, suggesting that the species could have become extinct.


Seven bullets found in last male rhino’s body (Malaysia)

By Uncategorized
Sherell Jeffrey, The Daily Express | October 17, 2019

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KOTA KINABALU: Seven bullets were found in the last known Sabah male rhinoceros, Tam, just below his skin during the taxidermy skinning process of his remains.

It is understood that when the Sabah Wildlife Department first got Tam, there was no indication he was shot or pellets were visible on his skin.

It was found only recently when the museum did the taxidermy on Tam.

Original photo as published by Daily Express.

The lead pellets were found on fragments of his hind leg and lower part of his tail.

The findings raised the question of how Tam had survived that long, especially with bullets lodged in his body.

Rhinos, just like elephants, can survive gunshot wounds fired from a far range due to its thick hide, according to State Wildlife Assistant Director, Dr Sen Nathan, when asked for his views, Wednesday.

According to a website on rhinos, the skin of a rhino is around 1.5-5 centimeters thick and is formed from layers of collagen (the main protein of connective tissue in animals and the most abundant protein in mammals).

He said there have been instances where elephants live up to 10 years even with bullets lodged in their hides.

“The bullets may be lodged superficially under the skin, causing only minor damages, with no vital organs hit,” he said.
Tam, first sighted by the State Wildlife Department at Kretam Plantation in Lahad Datu on Aug 6, 2006, was the nation’s last male rhino. He died of old age on May 27, this year.

His preserved remains are currently exhibited at the State Museum’s Marble Hall until Dec 31, this year.

An abstract in the exhibition concludes the finding of the bullets. Tam had clearly been shot previously by hunters, which caused the tail rift shorter, long before the department took care of him.

Called the “Tam: Last Male Rhino”, the exhibition shows the preservation and stuffing of “Tam” from the preliminary survey on June 28, 2019 all the way to “Tam” being fully stuffed and mounted on Sept 25 the same year.

It also showcases efforts taken by the State Government in saving Borneo’s Sumatran rhino from extinction.

One of the exhibition panels displayed stated that when the State Government announced the Borneo Sumatran rhino extinct in 2015, there were only three rhinos left for captive-breeding at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin, Lahad Datu.

They were male “Tam”, female “Puntong”, and female “Iman”. But they couldn’t mate. In 2017, “Puntung” was euthanised after an incurable cancer.

Malaysia is now left with one female Sumatran rhinoceros, Iman.

Since her capture in 2014, no other Sumatran rhinoceros has been detected in Sabah.