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Sumatran rhinos Archives - Rhino Review

Indonesia-WWF split puts rhino breeding project in Borneo in limbo

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Basten Gokkon, Mongabay | February 3, 2020

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JAKARTA: The acrimonious end to a partnership between WWF and Indonesia’s environment ministry threatens to derail a crucial program to breed Sumatran rhinos in captivity, widely seen as the only viable way to save the species from extinction, in eastern Borneo.

Conservationists had been scheduled to capture a wild Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) from East Kalimantan, a province in Indonesian Borneo, last November and deliver it to a sanctuary staffed by experts from WWF Indonesia. But that plan was scrapped after the environment ministry effectively cut ties with the conservation NGO in October. The split was formally announced in January this year.

WWF Indonesia had been involved in the capture of two wild rhinos in 2016 and 2018 in the province. The first one, a female named Najaq, died from injuries sustained during her capture. The second rhino, Pahu, also a female, was successfully relocated to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in the Kelian protected forest in East Kalimantan. WWF Indonesia staff have been heavily involved in attending to Pahu since her rescue.

Original photo as published by Mongabay.

Suhandri, a director at the wildlife group, told Mongabay that WWF Indonesia decided to delay carrying out the plan after receiving letters from the environment ministry on Oct. 7 announcing the ministry’s unilateral termination of their memorandum of understanding.

“We knew the routes [the rhino] would frequently pass,” Suhandri said in Jakarta on Jan. 28. “We had picked the locations for the pit traps.”

The partnership had been scheduled to end in 2023, but the ministry cited alleged violations of the agreement by WWF Indonesia as justification for the early termination.

The ministry’s decision affects 30 out of 130 projects that WWF Indonesia administers across the country, one of them being the rhino conservation program in East Kalimantan.

Conservation groups and government officials agree that bringing isolated, wild rhinos into captivity is critical for ensuring the survival of this critically endangered species. Most of the remaining wild Sumatran rhinos live in fragmented groups too small to reproduce naturally at sustainable rates, leading to fears the species will decline into extinction without human intervention.

Capturing a rhino in Indonesian Borneo is seen as particularly critical to the conservation cause. The Sumatran and Bornean populations of the species have been separated for thousands of years and have grown genetically distinct during that time. Breeding between the two populations will therefore give a much-needed genetic diversity boost to the captive-breeding program, which has so far relied only on rhinos from the Sumatran population.

While Malaysian Borneo no longer has any rhinos in the wild or in captivity, there is at least one, Pahu, on the Indonesian part of the island, and likely a second that WWF Indonesia had targeted for capture last year. (Indonesia’s other SRS, at Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra, has seven rhinos, two of which were born there under the captive-breeding program.)

Suhandri said he couldn’t confirm the sex of the wild rhino targeted for capture, but a male rhino would mean a potential mate for Pahu.

In 2013, WWF Indonesia confirmed a wild population of the Sumatran rhinos in East Kalimantan that was thought to have vanished. Since then, it has worked with the government and other conservation groups — Aliansi Lestari Rimba Terpadu (ALeRT) and Komunitas Pecinta Alam Damai (KOMPAD) — on conserving the species there.

WWF Indonesia has been involved in field surveys to track wild rhinos, beefing up protection of their habitats, setting up the high-security sanctuary at Kelian for the captive-breeding program, and locating and capturing rhinos from the wild. Suhandri said WWF Indonesia had spent more than $1 million on the collaborative rhino conservation program in East Kalimantan.

Indra Eksploitasia, the director of biodiversity conservation director at the environment ministry, told Mongabay that her office would take over the program.

Sunandar Trigunajasa Nurochmadi, the head of the East Kalimantan government’s conservation agency, declined to comment to Mongabay on WWF Indonesia’s exit from the rhino program. However, he said his office was committed to finding rhinos in the wild there and trapping them for the breeding program. He added that they had spotted three wild rhinos in the province.

Suhandri said his team would meet with the provincial conservation agency and other groups to find ways in which WWF Indonesia’s rhino experts could continue to be involved in the program.

“To this day our keepers and vets are still taking care of Pahu. This is such a specific task, you can’t just swap it out,” he said.

News of the end of the partnership between WWF Indonesia and the environment ministry came as a surprise to other conservation groups, according to Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of WWF Indonesia’s steering committee.

“Everyone was asking us ‘What’s going on?’” Kuntoro said. “We’re shattered because we are a reputable organization.”

WWF is a co-founder of the Sumatran Rhino Rescue global initiative established in September 2018 by the Indonesian government, the National Geographic Society, Global Wildlife Conservation, the International Rhino Foundation, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“WWF-Indonesia has played a critical role in supporting on-the-ground work to save the Sumatran rhino,” Jon Paul Rodriguez, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, wrote in an email to Mongabay.

Rodriguez said the Sumatran Rhino Rescue program would continue to support efforts to save the species and allocate resources accordingly in light of the new development. He said some of the initiative’s key objectives this year include conducting search-and-rescue operations to capture isolated rhinos from the wild, building new facilities to bolster capacity to care for and breed rhinos, and coordinating with other partners across Indonesia to collaborate on a single, countrywide breeding program.

“We defer to the Government of Indonesia and WWF-Indonesia to determine the next steps for their relationship,” Rodriguez added.

Following the death of Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino last November, Indonesia is now the last refuge for the global population of the species. There are fewer than 80 individuals believed to be left in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo. Habitat loss and poaching had depleted the population that once roamed as far as mainland Southeast Asia, but experts now say the low birthrate is the main threat to the species. Breeding efforts in captivity have been hailed as the priority for ensuring the rhinos’ survival.

Lukas Adhyakso, WWF Indonesia’s acting CEO, said that while the organization respects the ministry’s decision to cut ties, the focus of all parties should be on ensuring the continued protection and care of the rhinos, whether inside or outside the sanctuary in East Kalimantan.

“We must not let this animal perish,” he said. “We have the expertise. Others may have it, too, but we’re the ones that have been involved [in the rhino program] for so long.

“If the government wants us, we’re ready to support them,” Lukas added.

 

Armed unit to tackle poaching (Malaysia)

By Antipoaching, Illegal trade, Law & legislation No Comments
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.

 

Love triangle complicates efforts to breed Sumatran rhinos (Indonesia)

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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.

 

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

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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.

 

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.

 

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

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Illegal trade No Comments
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 dies, leaving Indonesia as the final refuge

By Conservation, News No Comments
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.

Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino dying

By Conservation No Comments
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.

Indonesia plans IVF for recently captured Sumatran rhino

By Conservation, Science and technology No Comments
Basten Gokkon, Mongabay | November 5, 2019

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EAST LAMPUNG, INDONESIA: Indonesian authorities will make their first attempt at in vitro fertilization of a Sumatran rhino, aiming to boost the critically endangered species’ gene pool in the process.

The egg for the IVF attempt will come from Pahu, a solitary female Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) being held at the Kelian Lestari Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in West Kutai district, in the Bornean province of East Kalimantan. Indra Exploitasia, the director of biodiversity conservation at the environment ministry, told Mongabay that the plan was to fertilize egg cells harvested from Pahu with sperm collected from one of the males living at the Way Kambas SRS in Lampung province, on the island of Sumatra.

Pahu was captured from the wild in November 2018 as part of a captive-breeding program for the species. For a year she has been held alone in the facility leading some to question what Indonesian authorities plan for her future.

Original photo as published by Mongabay: Pahu is the sole captive rhino at the Kelian Lestari Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Indonesian Borneo. (Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry/Sumatran Rhino Rescue Team Kalimantan.)

Pahu is believed to be quite old as rhinos go, about 25 years old, but experts say they’ve found no obvious reproductive problems with her.

However, she weighs only around 360 kilograms (790 pounds), less than half the weight of a typical adult Sumatran rhino, and experts suspect she might be suffering from dwarfism. Her small size has raised fears that attempting to mate her naturally with a much-larger male could lead to injury or even death; Sumatran rhino mating is a violent, raucous affair. Her size has also prompted doubts that she would be able to bring a regular-sized baby to term.

Pahu’s isolation at the Kelian Lestari SRS is another potential obstacle. Previous research has indicated that female Sumatran rhinos do not ovulate naturally when males are not present. However, Dedi Candra, a veterinarian working for Indonesia’s environment ministry, says some egg cells do develop without males present, albeit at a slower pace, and that researchers have had some success artificially inducing ovulation. Widodo Ramono, executive director of the Indonesia Rhino Foundation (YABI), says that male rhino urine alone may be enough to stimulate ovulation. Conservationists in Indonesia have already made use urine from captive males, flying a liter to Kalimantan to help lure Pahu into the pit trap where she was captured.

“We are currently monitoring Pahu’s reproductive health,” Indra told reporters in Way Kambas on Oct. 30. “We must know first when she ovulates, so the egg cells can be retrieved and then fertilized in a test tube.”

If the plan goes through, it will be the first IVF attempt on captive Sumatran rhinos by Indonesia, says Widodo. Scientists here previously attempted artificial insemination — injecting sperm into the uterine cavity —with Bina, one of the captive female rhinos at Way Kambas, but it was unsuccessful. For that attempt, they used semen collected from Andalas, a rhino born in captivity at Cincinnati Zoo and now a resident at Way Kambas, where he has sired two offspring, both through natural mating.

Last month, experts in Malaysia attempted to use IVF to fertilize an egg harvested from an older female rhino using sperm collected from a now-deceased male. But that attempt was also unsuccessful, with Malaysian experts citing the low quality of the sperm, taken when the male was very old. The Malaysian conservationists have long requested a transfer of sperm from the Indonesian captive rhinos, but Indonesian authorities have repeatedly declined, citing the need to sort out a long list of paperwork.

If the IVF attempt with Pahu’s egg and sperm from Andalas or his younger brother, Harapan, is successful — or Malaysia sends egg cells retrieved from its last rhino to Indonesia and the treatment works — the new offspring would represent a new hope for the species. The populations in Sumatra, D. s. sumatrensis, and Borneo, D. s. harrissoni, are subspecies that have been genetically separated for hundreds of thousands of years. Mixing the two would give a much-needed boost to the gene pool of a species so diminished — as few as 40 are believed to remain on Earth — that inbreeding is a real risk.

The idea of mixing the Sumatran and Bornean bloodlines initially met with disapproval from conservationists. But in recent years there’s been a growing sense of urgency among researchers that the situation is so dire that it’s better to focus on preserving the species at all costs rather than trying to maintain two separate subspecies.

Indra said the planned IVF attempt would most likely use sperm from Andalas, who is a proven breeder. “Harapan has never had a chance to mate naturally,” Indra said. “So we don’t know yet the quality of his sperm, and we haven’t tried to collect samples from him.”

Meanwhile, the surrogate mother could be any captive female Sumatran rhino as long as she’s not going under a natural breeding program, Indra added.

A previous global effort to breed captive Sumatran rhinos, launched in the 1980s, fell through a decade later after more than half of the animals died without any calves being produced. But a string of successful captive births at Cincinnati Zoo, and later Way Kambas, and a growing consensus that the species will go extinct without intervention, have laid the groundwork for the latest captive-breeding effort.

The species was brought to the edge of extinction by habitat loss, with Sumatra and Borneo losing vast swaths of forest to oil palm plantations and coal mines, as well as poaching. Now, conservationists believe a low birthrate is the primary threat to Sumatran rhinos’ survival. The network of SRS breeding centers (the Indonesian government plans to open a third in Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra) holds a combined eight rhinos — seven at Way Kambas and one at Kelian Lestari, including two calves born in captivity. Malaysia has one in captivity, an aging and ailing female named Iman, but otherwise the species is believed to be functionally extinct there.