SOS Rhino: And now there’s reason to celebrate
New Straits Times Online (15/12/2007)
The 4th Sumatran Rhinoceros Conservation Workshop in July was told that low sperm count among male rhinos and the possibility of cysts in the reproductive organs of females may be factors that could lead to its extinction. The Sabah Wildlife Department estimates that there are 25 to 50 of the animals in the state, with most of them at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Danum Valley in Lahad Datu.
Dr S. Thayaparan is studying the reproductive health of the rhino as part of his doctoral degree
WADING across raging rivers and crossing paths with a python are worthy risks for a Sri Lankan veterinarian who moved to Sabah to study the Sumatran rhinoceros.
After spending almost four years collecting dung and footprints of the elusive animal in the Lahad Datu area, Dr S. Thayaparan finally had a close encounter with a rhino a month ago — and even managed to capture some video footage.
“After years of only seeing dung and other evidence, I finally saw a rhino for myself and recorded it on video. It was very exciting.”
Attached to SOS Rhino Borneo Bhd as a programme officer, Thayaparan says team members recently sighted another adult rhino, and found footprints measuring 17 centimetres, indicating a smaller rhino.
“This is good news as it may indicate natural breeding is taking place in our forests and there is hope for the species here,” he adds.
Having worked with elephants back home and as a veterinary surgeon at a government veterinary office, Thayaparan chanced on the study of rhinos when he attended a conference in Kota Kinabalu in 2001. He met Chicago-based Dr Nan Schaffer of SOS Rhino, who offered him the chance to research the animal.
He moved to Kota Kinabalu in 2004 to pursue a masters degree at Universiti Malaysia Sabah on the population, foraging ecology and nutrition of rhinos at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, and is now studying the reproductive health of the animal as part of his doctoral degree.
“In future, I want to try and breed one rhino but first, I must learn about its reproductive health. You need resources such as information in order to understand this complex animal. The time is right to focus on this animal and I believe it is possible for the population of rhinos in Sabah to grow,” he says.
Thayaparan, now a research fellow at UMS, says his study at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve has revealed that rhinos forage on 65 species of plants.
“They actually eat wild mangoes and jackfruit and a type of cinnamon traditionally used by villagers to heal body aches. Results also show that the plants rhinos consume are high in nutrition and sufficient to cater to their dietary needs.”
He is also trying to educate more undergraduates at UMS and villagers who live on the fringes of rhino areas to be more aware about the importance of the animal.
“We have the Rhino Conservation Club at UMS and about 30 students go through its activities every year. Some will end up doing conservation work and will take the lead.”