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  SOS Rhino : In the News : News From The Field : SOS RHINO ANNUAL REPORT 2003
  Dr. Edwin Bosi
Program Officer
SOS Rhino Borneo


The year 2003 was very challenging for SOS Rhino. Its four main activities namely, the in situ, ex situ, research and community outreach programs have been met with different level of success. This report covers the progression of SOS Rhino from inception the end of 2003. date.

Ex situ program

Since November 2000, SOS Rhino has been assisting the wildlife department Sabah with their rhino captive breeding program at Sepilok. SOS Rhino sponsored Dr. Sen Nathan’s trip to Jakarta and Way Kambas Sumatra for the meeting with all the rhino researchers from USA, Indonesia and Malaysia. Dr. Sen has just taken over from Dr. Edwin Bosi as the head veterinarian at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center as of February 2000.

The captive breeding program at Sepilok was spearheaded by the late Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn, SOS Rhino Field Scientist. In view of the urgency of this program, SOS Rhino recruited Dr. Cheong Chee Chong a local veterinarian from West Malaysia. He joined SOS Rhino in April 2001. Blood collection and hormonal analysis, semen collection and evaluation, behaviorial study and joining were attempted. Unfortunately, three separate attempts led to vicious injuries to the female. Dr. Cheong resigned in January 2002 and was replaced by Dr. Symphorosa Sipangkui in April 2002. She continued with blood collection and hormonal assay and ultrasounds. Attempts were made to join the animal, which again led to severe bite injuries on the female. Dr. Rosa resigned from SOS Rhino and joined the wildlife department Sabah in May 2003. She is now the head veterinarian at Sepilok.

In June 2003, Dr. Nan visited Sabah and also spent time at Sepilok. A meeting with stakeholders agreed to bring SOS Rhino to the attention of the Director to undertake a three-month intensive management of the rhinos. SOS Rhino will work on the rhinos to determine the reproductive potential of the animals with the hope to breed them.

The sudden death of all the rhinos at Sungai Dusun breeding center in West Malaysia about October 2003 has made headline all over the world. The misfortune of Sungai Dusun has turned the Sabah rhinos into focused. Thus, in November 2003 we have received a strong commitment from the Director of wildlife department to undertake research on the rhinos at Sepilok and also with the in situ program.

An agreement of cooperation and collaboration between Sabah Wildlife Department, SOS Rhino and SOS Wildlife (Borneo) has been drafted and circulated to all concerned. While waiting for the finalized draft, SOS Rhino is already preparing to begin intensive work on the rhinos at Sepilok. A new Field Scientist is necessary to undertake the research.

In situ Program

A huge amount of time, resources and energy has been expanded on survey work at Tabin wildlife reserve since December 2000. The recruitment and training of field assistants were intensified. Three field assistants were sent to Way Kambas, Sumatra for familiarization and training in RPU technique. Rapid turnover of staffs was experienced and in most cases due to poor sustainability of the people to this nature of work. We faced many problems of poor discipline, low responsibility, commitment and dedication. There are few exceptions. Presently 70% of our field staffs have been with SOS Rhino for more than a year.

Despite these initial obstacles, SOS Rhino managed to complete 24-month long survey including one aerial survey in Tabin. The finding is very encouraging with at least 8 known, another 8 probable and 32 possibilities in the number of rhinos in Tabin reserve.

In February 2002, some team members saw a adult male as it passed through their campsite. Again, in October 2003, one team member saw a adult female wallowing and washing off in the stream before disappearing into the wilderness.

The finding is extremely important for conservation point of view. However, it is also of concern. The ability to see this so-called elusive animal in Tabin indicates the potential of poaching. The sighting of fresh prints and their proximity to the boundary indicates the high risk of being poached.

Our field teams have seen evidence of human activities within the reserve. Most of the rivers that drain the Tabin reserve flow northwards into the Segama river. The massive network of rivers and streams provides an easy access into the reserve. Human illegal activities mostly involving felling of trees and fishing are using the rivers and are creeping slowly into the area. The rhinos will gradually become opportunistic targets.

The year 2003 has shown a reduction in illegal encroachment into the Tabin reserve. SOS Rhino has been supplying all information regarding illegal presence of human and illegal activities in the reserve to the wildlife and forestry departments. Swift actions by these authorities have crippled most of the illegal activities. The forestry department has established a forward base camp facing the Maruap river, near the Segama river estuary. The department has another guardhouse in Dagat village, near the northern boundary of the reserve. The wildlife department is now provided with powerful boats to patrol the upper Segama river including its tributaries.


Research grants have been provided by SOS Rhino. Two local students have been sponsored to study Sumatran rhino in Tabin but they have failed miserably. From these two cases, we see no perseverance in these students. Despite this failure, SOS Rhino will continue to sponsor students who are keen to undertake research in this species. At the moment, we have determined the presence, distribution and population density of rhinos in Tabin reserve. This is fundamental information.

The next progression is to understand the nutrition and ecology of the rhinos in the wild. Nutrition is vital as it gives us an idea of their nutritional requirement. It provides information on plants consumed and preferable home ranges. The plants will also be analysed to determine not only its nutritional content but also, of any medicinal value and property. The information on the plants will allow us to determine the quality of the habitat in case we need to relocate any doomed rhinos in the future.

Demographic is vital as a management tool. It allows us to manage species that are low in number and fragmented. One of the best methods to study the demographic of wild animals is to see and count the individuals by sex. This is impossible for the rhino, which is very small in number in a thick large forest. Hoof prints provide evidence of their presence and size. Genetic is therefore important in studying the sex. Sexing using dung sample can be done. The sample can also provide individual profile through genetic fingerprinting. Genetic analysis will also provide an insight into the closeness of individuals. This information has a long-term implication on the survival of the species. This research involves combing the area for dung and other samples such as hairs and fresh urine.

Community Outreach Program

Many conservation exercises fail because the relevant stakeholders are not involved in the process. Community outreach program or COP is just another approach towards engaging stakeholders in conservation. In the case of SOS Rhino, the relevant stakeholders are the plantations that share boundaries with rhino habitats, logging concessionaires operating close to rhino habitat, tourism players and operators using rhino habitats, schools and villagers located near rhino habitats.

Tabin reserve is practically surrounded by oil palm plantations, with the exception of some areas which are mainly swampy nipah and mangrove vegetation. Although this area appears hostile, it provides prawns, fish, crabs and shellfish for the villagers. The area is also teeming with Proboscis monkeys and other monkeys, otters, birds, flying foxes and bats, water birds, crocodiles, iguana, turtle and snakes. One interesting finding is the white monkeys among the grey or silver leaf monkeys. Large mammals such as the tembadau/banteng or wild cattle, sambar deer and wild pigs roam this area. Occasionally, a large herd of about 100 wild elephant would pass through this area and bringing destruction and losses to fruit trees and vegetables.

Tabin reserve is never free from encroachment. Ground and aerial surveys have detected human presence and activities. The wildlife and forestry departments have dealt with these problems. Informative and advisory posters on illegal hunting and intrusion have been distributed to all the plantations around Tabin.

The northern part of Tabin reserve has been identified as the most porous due to the massive network of rivers. There are few human settlements and difficult to monitor. The decline in prawns and fish has an adverse impact on the fishing village. Many have left to look for jobs in the towns while the more enterprising ones have requested the government to start a eco-tourism project. SOS Rhino’s COP was initiated partly due to the request from the government through the Ministry of Tourism, Environment, Science and Technology.

As of November 2002, SOS Rhino began to operate in the northern part of Tabin. An abandon guardhouse built by the Tomanggong estate for the wildlife department was quickly taken over from the department. It was cleansed, water and electricity was re-connected by the estate. Later, this guardhouse was taken over by the wildlife department to provide accommodation for their staff assigned to patrol the Segama river. However, a piece of land was purchased to allow SOS Rhino to establish a base camp along the Segama river. Since then, SOS Rhino has been patrolling this area together with the wildlife department. SOS Rhino field teams are now entering the Tabin reserve via the Tabin river. Another base camp will be established in Dagat.

Our COP has met its objectives. We have recruited three field assistants from the villages who act as our COP liaison officers. We have constructed village-type chalets for our volunteers and tourists. We have built a boat for patrolling and for survey work. The villagers will benefit from some employment opportunity, making nipah roof for the chalets, selling their catches, chickens and vegetables and hiring of their boats. In return we have villagers who are keen to help to protect their environment and wildlife.

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