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  SOS Rhino : In the News : News From The Field : Overview of data collected in the year 2004 in Sepilok
Overview of data collected in the year 2004 in Sepilok
  Picture 1: Sumatran rhino in Sepilok

Blood and fecal sample collection:

Since the beginning of the project in Sepilok, in March 2004, a total of 80 blood samples were collected from the Sumatran rhinos (see graph 1). Fifty two samples from the female and twenty eight samples from the male. The samples were sent to a local laboratory for blood chemistry analysis. With this analysis we are able to monitor the health of the rhinos. We can for example see whether they have got an infection and whether the kidneys and the liver are working properly. In addition to that we send the samples to a hormone laboratory to establish the testosterone concentration in the blood of the male and the blood progesterone and estrogen levels of the female. The sample collection is not harmful for the animals. They walk into the chute and stand still during blood collection. They actually love it as they get their favorite food, bananas, during the procedure.

In addition to the blood samples we also collect fecal samples from the male and female. Assistant Prof. Dr. Franz Schwarzenberger is analyzing the samples for us in Vienna, Austria. He measures the concentration of hormone metabolites in the feces. This is another method to establish the hormone levels of the rhinos. Fecal samples can be collected every day. We can thus monitor the hormone concentrations. The advantage of the method is that it is more regular compared to blood samples that can only be collected once or twice a week. However, blood samples are still necessary to establish the accuracy of the fecal metabolite measurements. A total of 595 fecal samples were collected in the year 2004: 301 samples from the female and 294 samples from the male.

Graph 1: Number of blood samples collected per week (starting from 15th of March) from the male (Tanjung) and the female (Gelugob) Sumatran rhino in Sepilok.

1.3. Behavior observations:

In addition to the fecal and blood sample collection we monitor the behavior of the rhinos. Every day and every hour each animal is monitored for 15 minutes and certain behavior patterns are noted. We monitored e.g. how often the animal is feeding, how much time it spends lying and wallowing, how often it is urinating or defecating and whether it is kicking with its hindlegs after urinating/defecating or not. Most importantly we measure how often and how long the rhinos have contact with each other, and whether or not the male has got an errection. Yes you read right, we monitor the frequency and length of an erection! Preliminary hormone analysis showed that the time that Tanjung, our male in Sepilok, had an erection coincided with the female being in heat. She has than higher estrogen concentrations compared to the other days. So we use his behavior as an indicator for her cycling activity. In the last year, we monitored the behavior of the rhinos on 189 days. The total time of observation was 28995 minutes or 483,25 hours. Tanjung was observed for 244,75 hours and Gelugob for 238,5 hours.

Picture 2: Tanjung, the male Sumatran rhino in Sepilok mounting a tree and masturbating.

Amount of food eaten by Sumatran rhinos in 2004:

We feed the rhinos 3 to 4 times a day. They get different species of browse and fruits.

Picture 3: Gelugob feeding browse in her night enclosure

The browse is being collected twice a day from small forest patches in the Sandakan area. The amount of food fed to the rhinos and the left overs is weight every day to monitor the amount of food eaten by the rhinos. The female gets on average 44 kg of browse per day and the male 66 kg of browse. The female eats on average 38 kg per day and the male eats on average 47 kg per day (Graph 2).

Graph 2: Amount of food eaten by Sumatran rhinos in the year 2004.

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