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SOS Rhino : News From The Field : A Bitter and Sweet Year 2002 for SOS Rhino Borneo

A Bitter and Sweet Year 2002 for SOS Rhino Borneo

  By Dr. Edwin Bosi, Program Officer

For the past 24 months (December 2000 - December 2002), the field teams have systematically scouted the Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR) for evidence of Sumatran rhino. Using the "fishbone" method, a west-east transect covering approximately 65 km was used and practically divides the reserve into two halves. About 50% of the reserve is surveyed.

Entrance to Tabin Wildlife Reserve via Tungku Road.

Aerial picture of SOS Rhino (Borneo)"s base camp at Tabin Wildlife Reserve

In 2002 alone, 30 surveys were conducted in Tabin reserve including one general survey organized jointly with the Wildlife Department Sabah and AREAS-WWF Sabah from 8th ­ 20th October. A helicopter survey on April 22nd was also conducted over the reserve together with the Wildlife Department Sabah, AREAS-WWF Sabah, Singapore Zoological Gardens and SOS Rhino (Borneo). SOS Rhino (Borneo)"s field teams were supported by volunteers from Singapore through the Singapore International Foundation, Raleigh International and individuals from US, Canada and UK.

Fresh rhino trail

Fresh rhino hoof print

Fresh rhino trail found on mud volcano

What are the implications? We have somewhat established, based on data gathered, that there are 6 known, 16 probable and 32 possible Sumatran rhinos in Tabin reserve. We have seen some level of human activities inside the reserve but so far, there is no evidence of poaching of this critically endangered species. The Forestry and Wildlife Departments have implemented several measures in combating the illegal activities in the reserve. Needless to say, we have provided information on the locations of these activities.

Small snare traps discovered during wildlife general survey

There is a need to continue to undertake surveys until we are confident of the population density. We have two researches; one on nutrition and the other on genetic fingerprinting. The nutrition is critical as we are concerned about carrying capacity and as a tool to decide on relocation exercises if there is a need. The genetic analysis using dung looks at individual profile and gender. A complete demographic study of the species is important for making a right management decision for the species. Leni Tupang, the SOS Rhino (Borneo)"s Field Coordinator hopes to enroll with University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) for her Masters in rhino genetics.

Leni Tupang, SOS Rhino (Borneo)"s Field Co-ordinator.

The involvement of volunteers is equally important. First, they provide extra manpower in the search for rhino evidence. Looking for hoof prints needs the involvement of many trackers in such a huge reserve. Secondly, the volunteers are agents of conservation and also help in the promotion of rhino conservation and Tabin reserve as a tourist destination. Volunteers will be very vital for the success of the community outreach program whereby villagers along the reserve boundary are encouraged to establish tourism-related activities within their villages and surrounding areas. Volunteers will benefit from the field experience, cultural experience and a chance to see other parts of the country.

Raleigh International volunteers in the forest

Volunteers learning about oil palms from Sabahmas plantation, one of SOS Rhino partners in conservation

Singapore expert volunteers training SOS Rhino staffs on tree climbing

Singapore volunteers found fresh hoof prints in the misty forest of Tabin

The year 2002 has not seen any success with the breeding of the last pair of Sumatran rhino at Sepilok. Again, we are bogged down with male aggression that renders joining very dangerous for the female. Efforts are continuing to match hormonal assays with behavior, in order to confirm the particular moment of sexual receptiveness. Dr. Rosa and her two assistants together with wildlife rangers from the rhino unit are working very hard in getting the pair to breed naturally.

Dr Rosa (in White) with one of her assistants.

Showing mucus discharge which is one of signs of estrus or sexual receptiveness

Rhinos involved in courtship

Rhinos involved in natural mating

SOS Rhino (Borneo) field teams are working closely with the Wildlife Department. A team joined the Wildlife Department"s team in undertaking a fauna survey of the Crocker Range, which was jointly organized by the Institute of Tropical Biology and Conservation, UMS, JICA (Japan) and Sabah Parks in September 2002. Later four of our field team members attended and passed the honorary game warden course organized by the Wildlife Department. This will provide extra hands for the Wildlife Department in the enforcement of its wildlife conservation enactment.

WWF Sabah training SOS Rhino field staffs on GIS

Another achievement was the successful 2nd Sumatran rhino conservation seminar in June 2002. The seminar brought together people from the Wildlife Department, UMS, WWF-Sabah, other government agencies, oil palm plantations, nature resorts and several NGOs. The Assistant Minister Datuk Karim Bujang has kindly officiated in the seminar. The newspapers gave a very encouraging coverage of all the papers presented. Success with the seminar encouraged us to start moving on our community outreach program or COP. This is an important program because we include villagers and oil palm plantation owners to look at sustainable conservation within the context of their existence around the rhino habitat.

Assistant Minister of Tourism, Environment, Science and Technology Datuk Karim Bujang taking a boat ride during his visit to Kampung Parit, north of Tabin reserve.

Datuk Karim Bujang and entourage meeting with the people of Kampung Parit, north of Tabin reserve on October 31st.

While we struggled to determine the population density, enforcement, training, volunteers, we were suddenly confronted by the tragedy befalling on our Field Scientist. It was with sadness that we were notified of the demise of our Field Scientist Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn in Gabon, Africa in November 2002. She was truly a remarkable wildlife veterinarian and conservationist. Her legacy lives with two memorial funds established by SOS Rhino and WCS under her name. Several memorial services were held in Chicago, Singapore, Tabin reserve, and New York.

Dr. Annelisa's memorial service at Tabin reserve.

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