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Threatened birds and mammals have irreplaceable roles in the natural world

By Conservation No Comments
University of Southampton / Phys.Org | February 24, 2020

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A new study led from the University of Southampton has shown that threatened birds and mammals are often ecologically distinct and irreplaceable in their environment.

Mammals such as the Asian elephant and the Sumatran rhinoceros, and birds such as the great Indian bustard, Amsterdam albatross and the Somali ostrich are both highly threatened and ecologically distinct. the extinction of these species could therefore lead to the loss of unique ecological roles. The findings also highlight that the most distinct species are often charismatic, such as emperor penguins, wolves, sea-eagles and leopards.

Original photo as published by Phys.org.

The research was led by Dr. Robert Cooke, visiting researcher at the University of Southampton and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Gothenburg. He said: “The most ecologically distinct species often have unique roles in their environment but they are not directly prioritized in current conservation plans. This blind spot means that ecologically important species may be lost.”

The roles that ecologically distinct species have in the ecosystems they inhabit are wide ranging. Herbivores such as elephants and hippopotamus can impact vegetation structure and nutrient cycling, while predators, such as white-tailed sea-eagle, leopard, grey wolf and puma can prevent overgrazing, enhance productivity and limit the spread of disease.

The researchers calculated the ecological distinctiveness of all living birds and mammals based on six traits—body mass, litter size, length of time between generations, breadth of habitat, diet type and diet diversity. This enabled them to identify the most distinct species and combine this with data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They also compared the list against previous research identifying animals which have inherent value to humans based on public perceptions of charisma.

The study concludes that the connection between the unique characteristics of certain birds and mammals, their threatened status, and their public popularity creates a new conservation opportunity. “The use of charismatic species to attract funding is controversial, as it can divert people’s attention to species that are potentially not the most threatened or ecologically important,” added Dr. Cooke. “However, here we show that charismatic species may be deserving of their elevated attention, due to their often-distinct ecological strategies and therefore potentially vital ecological roles.”

The findings have been published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

More information: Robert S.C. Cooke et al. Ecological distinctiveness of birds and mammals at the global scale, Global Ecology and Conservation (2020).

DOI: 10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e00970

 

Indonesian officials wield sharia law in defense of Sumatran rhinos

By Antipoaching, Law & legislation No Comments
Junaidi Hanafiah & Rahmadi Rahmad, Mongabay | January 10, 2020

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EAST LAMPUNG, INDONESIA: The government of the Indonesian province of Aceh, notorious for public canings carried out under sharia law, plans to put that same strict Islamic jurisprudence to work protecting what’s thought to be the last viable population of wild Sumatran rhinos on Earth.

Authorities have submitted to the provincial legislature a draft Islamic bylaw, known as a Qanun Jinayat, that prescribes penalties — in addition to those provided for in national law — for anyone convicted of hunting, killing or trading in protected species, including the critically endangered Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis). According to Aceh government officials, the qanun also carries penalties for anyone convicted of damage wildlife habitats in the province.

Original photo as published by Mongabay.com.

Violators would face not just jail terms of up to five years and fines of up to Rp 100 million ($7,300), as prescribed under national laws, but also up to 100 lashes of the cane if the qanun is implemented.

The draft bylaw is expected to boost protections for rhinos in Aceh’s Leuser Ecosystem, one of the last great intact swaths of tropical rainforest left in Sumatra, and home to the largest population of the near-extinct Sumatran rhinos. It’s also the last place on Earth where critically endangered rhinos, tigers, orangutans and elephants still co-exist.

Conservationists estimate the total population of Sumatran rhinos at between 30 and 80. At least 12 individual rhinos have been identified in the Leuser Ecosystem through recent camera-trap surveys, and official estimates put the area’s total rhino population as high as 50, split up into six subpopulations.

However, the mountainous region has a chronic wildlife poaching problem and remains poorly surveyed by conservationists.

“We’re also having deliberations on another draft qanun that will become a guide for environmental management based on the ecosystem’s carrying capacity for the next 30 years,” Malik Mahmud Al-Haytar, Aceh’s customary leader, told Mongabay Indonesia in a recent interview.

Aceh authorities also plan to establish six zones outside protected forests that will serve as sanctuaries for protected species. “The main purpose is to reduce conflicts between wildlife and humans,” said Muhammad Daud, the head of conservation at Aceh’s environmental department.

The bylaws are being considered just as Aceh prepares to host the national government’s third Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, aimed at the captive breeding of wild-caught rhinos.

“There must be an SRS built in Aceh. The province still has a large forest area and is suitable for action to rescue the Sumatran rhino from extinction,” Malik said. “This is very important because the Sumatran rhino population is so small.”

An environment ministry official said the new facility, in East Aceh district, will span about 100 hectares (250 acres), the same size as the country’s first SRS at Way Kambas National Park in southern Sumatra when it opened in 1996. That facility, which was greatly expanded last year, is home to seven rhinos, two of which were conceived and born there; a second SRS, in Indonesian Borneo, is home to a solitary wild-caught female rhino.

Conservationists plan to similarly capture wild rhinos from small population pockets in Aceh and relocate them to the semi-wild habitat of the planned new SRS inside the Leuser landscape. The main threat to the species is the fragmentation of the wild population, which means less opportunity for individual rhinos to encounter each other and mate. That’s led to the natural birth rate dropping well below the replacement level to sustain the species. With the network of SRS facilities, conservationists hope to address this problem through captive breeding.

Dedi Yansyah, coordinator for wildlife protection at the NGO Leuser Conservation Forum (FKL), said each of the small subpopulations in Aceh — comprising five 5 to 10 individuals — was isolated. “In some of the subpopulations in Leuser, there’s been no indication of a rhino calf,” he said.

“Besides protecting them, rescuing the individuals in these small pockets must be done to prevent the species from going extinct,” he said.

Aceh, a semi-autonomous province in Indonesia that’s the only one allowed to implement sharia law in the otherwise secular republic, has drawn criticism for its qanuns regulating private conduct. Hundreds of people have been caned in public for victimless crimes such as gambling and intermingling with a non-related member of the opposite sex. In 2017, authorities for the first time caned two men convicted of having same-sex relations. Homosexuality is not illegal under Indonesian law, but Aceh’s special autonomy allows it to implement qanuns that may conflict with national laws.

 

Love triangle complicates efforts to breed Sumatran rhinos (Indonesia)

By Conservation No Comments
Basten Gokkon, Mongabay | December 27, 2019

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EAST LAMPUNG, INDONESIA: Efforts to breed the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in captivity have faced numerous challenges. Breeding programs have been plagued by mysterious deaths, reproductive health problems and bureaucratic hurdles. Now, a sanctuary in Indonesia that has previously witnessed the birth of two healthy calves is facing a new, unexpected obstacle: relationship drama.

Since the 1970s, Indonesian biologist Widodo Ramono has devoted his work to the conservation of wildlife in the country, especially the iconic Sumatran rhinos. While experts like Widodo have learned plenty about the species, much remains mysterious. They are always learning more about what makes the animal tick.

Original photo as published by Mongabay: Ratu and Andatu in 2012. (Photo by Susie Ellis, courtesy of IRF.)

The latest surprising development has been a complicated love triangle among three rhinos at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Indonesia’s Way Kambas National Park, Widodo told Mongabay during a recent visit to the facility. The three animals involved are Andalas, Ratu, and Rosa — likely the most reproductively viable captive rhinos.

Conservation work on the Sumatran rhinoceros is largely focused on efforts to produce as many calves as possible from captive animals. The wild population of the species is believed to number no more than 80 individuals, scattered across several habitats in Sumatra and Borneo. These remaining populations are so small and fragmented that experts fear they cannot support a birth rate that exceeds the natural death rate. Without a robust captive breeding program, the population could simply dwindle to extinction.

Over the years, captive breeding attempts have yielded both successes and failures. Beginning in the 1980s, 40 wild rhinos were captured and brought to zoos and breeding facilities in Indonesia, Malaysia, the U.K. and the U.S. Almost all died without offspring; the first successful captive birth came in 2001, at the Cincinnati Zoo in the U.S.

That calf, named Andalas, was later transferred to the Way Kambas sanctuary where he has successfully fathered two calves with a female named Ratu who was born in the wild near Way Kambas. The pair’s first calf, Andatu, was born in 2012. His sister, Delilah, followed in 2016.

In 2016, hoping to have more females producing calves, Widodo and his team decided to try mating Andalas with a second female held at the SRS. The female, Rosa, is possibly the last rhino from Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, a once-thriving rhino habitat that stretches the western coast of Lampung province.

Sumatran rhinos can get rough when they mate: they ram and bite each other, and males sometimes even lift up the females. It can be life-threatening for the animals. According to Widodo, though, Andalas was “kind” to Rosa during the mating process.

“He liked her. We were excited that he mated with Rosa and she didn’t get severely injured,” Widodo said.

Although the pair successfully mated, Andalas and Rosa did not produce any calves. Rosa would get pregnant, but the embryos were not viable. According to Widodo, Rosa lost seven pregnancies due to blighted ova.

In 2018, Widodo’s team tried to mate Andalas with his previous mate Ratu, hoping for another successful birth. “But, she refused. We don’t know why,” Widodo said. His assumption is that Ratu refused to mate with Andalas because she could smell a trace of Rosa on his body.

“Right now, her [Ratu’s] keepers are putting in a lot of effort so that she wants to mate with Andalas again,” Widodo said. In the process, they are learning about how to persuade a rhino to mate. “This is difficult. Being a matchmaker for rhinos isn’t easy.”

Incidents like the affair between Andalas, Ratu and Rosa have prompted Widodo to call on wildlife experts to learn more about the psychology of the species.

Widodo says this knowledge could be key in producing more baby rhinos. “That’s the strategic way to save this species —in fact this genus — of the Sumatran rhino,” he said.

 

Javan Rhino Makes Steady Strides While Sumatran Rhino Population Remains Obscure

By Conservation No Comments
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.”

 

Indonesia to capture 3 wild Sumatran rhinos to add to breeding population

By Conservation, Science and technology No Comments
Rahmadi Rahmad / Translated by Basten Gokkon, Mongabay | December 10, 2019

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EAST LAMPUNG, INDONESIA: Officials in Indonesia say they hope to capture three Sumatran rhinos from the wild for a recently expanded sanctuary where experts are carrying out breeding attempts to save the species from extinction.

The Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Way Kambas National Park, in Lampung province at the southern end of Sumatra Island, now spans 250 hectares (620 acres), following an expansion announced on Oct. 30.

“We are working to capture three wild rhinos in Way Kambas National Park,” Ade Kurnia Rauf, a senior adviser to Indonesia Rhino Foundation (YABI), told Mongabay. He added this was in line with Indonesia’s Emergency Action Plan on Sumatran Rhinoceros, issued on Dec. 6 last year.

Original photo as published by Mongabay.

While waiting for new rhinos to occupy the extension sometime next year, officials at the SRS have already moved one of the seven existing Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) at the facility into the new paddocks; Harapan, a 12-year-old male, is himself the product of an earlier successful captive-breeding program carried out at Cincinnati Zoo in the U.S.

The SRS at Way Kambas was opened in 1996, covering 100 ha (247 acres) and envisioned as a way to provide a heavily protected semi-wild habitat in which captive rhinos could breed naturally. Experts at the sanctuary are also tasked with carrying out research and programs to maintain a viable captive population that should be able to be released back into the wild eventually.

“Way Kambas National Park, where some of Sumatra’s last lowland tropical forest exists, is the last frontier for nearly extinct wildlife, such as the Sumatran rhino, [so] that we must protect its sustainability,” said Indra Exploitasia, the director of biodiversity conservation at Indonesia’s environment ministry.

Indonesia has launched a program to track and tally up Sumatran rhinos in the wild, including in Way Kambas National Park outside the SRS. Ade said five teams had been deployed to look for wild rhinos in Way Kambas and, by February, to start setting up pit traps to safely capture them alive.

The park agency estimates the rhino population in Way Kambas, which spans some 130,000 ha (321,200 acres), at some 33 individuals; some analyses give a much lower figure of around a dozen. The sanctuary itself is home to seven captive rhinos: three males and four females. Two of the rhinos were conceived and born at the sanctuary.

“We need new males and females to be relocated into the SRS. The reason is clear: to avoid inbreeding,” said Subakir, the head of Way Kambas National Park Agency.

In tandem with efforts to breed the species in captivity, conservationists are calling on the government to protect the last remaining wild habitats of the critically endangered animal so that there’s somewhere to release them back into when the situation allows.

The government of Lampung province has promised to increase protection for its forests from human pressure, especially within national parks, saying it wants the province to be the stronghold for the species.

“We must protect the Sumatran rhino, Indonesia’s treasure, from extinction,” said Arinal Djunaidi, the governor of Lampung, at a ceremony to mark the opening of the SRS extension on Oct. 30. He said he would seek an agreement with the environment ministry to boost law enforcement for national parks across Lampung.

Unlike with other rhino species, poaching isn’t the biggest threat to Sumatran rhinos. It’s the lack of natural breeding in the wild — a result of their habitats being carved up and destroyed, isolating individual rhinos and making it less likely that they’ll encounter one another to breed — that poses the greatest danger to the species.

“We’re fighting against extinction,” said Zulfi Arsan, a veterinarian at the SRS. “The population decline rate is [higher] than the birth rate.”

Despite its name, the species used to roam other parts of Asia, including India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. But the combination of habitat loss and poaching has left Indonesia as the final refuge for these rhinos; Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino, a female held in captivity, died of ill health on Nov. 23.

Widodo Ramono, the executive director of YABI,said his foundation had partnered with an international group, the Sumatran Rhino Survival Alliance — which consists of Indonesia’s environment ministry, the IUCN, the International Rhino Foundation, Global Wildlife Conservation, National Geographic and WWF — to protect the species.

“The expansion of the SRS can be used to its best to increase the rhino population while paying attention to sustainability, heritability, and good management of habitat,” he said.

Experts at SRS will still prioritize natural breeding, but are also open to using advanced reproductive technology, including in vitro fertilization.

“We must be very careful in carrying out anything,” Zulfi said. “Obviously, to produce a healthy rhino needs healthy parents who don’t have any reproductive problems.”

Fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos are believed to live in small populations scattered in the dwindling forests of Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo. In Sumatra, experts believe the rhinos survive in Gunung Leuser National Park, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and Way Kambas National Park. In Borneo, no more than 10 individuals are estimated to roam the forests of East Kalimantan province. Last year, a female rhino was captured from the wild there and relocated to a second SRS facility there. In 2016, another female rhino had been caught, but died a few weeks after her capture.

“We must act quickly against time to save this species that has lived on Earth since 20 million years ago,” Widodo said. “The most important effort now is to produce as many rhinos as possible at SRS in the safest setting there is.”

 

What will be the fate of Asian rhinos?

By Conservation No Comments
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 No Comments
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.

Sumatran rhino sanctuary in East Aceh to protect endangered species (Indonesia)

By Conservation No Comments
Antara News | November 29, 2019

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EAST LAMPUNG, LAMPUNG: The Aceh provincial administration intends to build a Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in East Aceh District in a bid to prevent the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros from becoming extinct.

“A rhino conservation site will be built in Aceh,” Head of Aceh Province’s Institution of Wali Nanggroe Malik Mahmud informed newsmen on the sidelines of his visit to the conservation site of Way Kambas National Park (TNWK) in East Lampung on Friday.

To this end, several representatives of the Aceh provincial and East Aceh district administrations conducted a comparative study on Sumatran rhino conservation from the TNWK’s and Indonesian Rhino Foundation’s (YABI’s) conservationists, he revealed.

Original photo as published by Antara News: A Sumatran rhino. (Special/ RN)

Led by Mahmud, representatives of the Aceh provincial and East Aceh district governments were able to gain comprehensive information from the experienced conservationists for two days since Thursday.

The TNWK and YABI’s conservationists were also willing to assist them in the development of the East Aceh-based Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, he stated.

During the visit, these guests from Aceh Province had observed the Lampung-based SRS that currently tends to seven Sumatran rhinos. On Friday, they continued their visit to the national park’s tamed elephant training center.

In response to the Aceh provincial government’s plan to build a SRS, Head of the Way Kambas National Park Subakir welcomed and supported the good will since it would assist in the rhino conservation efforts.

The TNWK in Lampung Province is the gatekeeper of rhino conservation in the eastern part of Sumatra Island, while Aceh Province can function as the caretaker of these endangered species in the western part of Sumatra, he pointed out.

“If rhino conservation sites are available in these two gates, the Sumatran rhinoceros can be saved,” he stated, adding that he was willing to deploy his people to the East Aceh-based rhino conservation site if the related authorities had issued a permit for it.

Subakir expressed optimism that Aceh will be successful in running its SRS owing to the province’s available thick forests and abundant food sources for rhinos.

He forecast that the total Sumatran rhino population just reaches 80. Based on this factual reality, he highlighted the need to step up rhino conservation efforts to prevent them from going extinct.

Currently, no Sumatran rhinos are left in Malaysia. The Javanese tigers had also been declared “extinct”. Such condition must be avoided by undertaking best-possible efforts to save the Sumatran rhino, he emphasized.

 

How many rhinos is enough rhinos? (Nepal)

By Conservation, Land conservation No Comments
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.”

 

Carcass of last Sumatran rhino to be preserved (Malaysia)

By Conservation, News No Comments
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.