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  SOS Rhino : In the News : News From The Field : Monthly Field Report for June 2005
June 2005
  May is always an exciting month in Sabah. At the end of this month the country celebrates Harvest Festival or Kaamatan in the Kadazan language, in honor of the spirit of the rice. The Kadazan is the largest ethnic group in Sabah and very much associated with farming, in particular rice. Being a staple food, the government has always encouraged growing rice. It is basically a security issue as Asians will not survive long without rice, sort off! In reality however, the growing of rice has taken a back stage as imported rice comes cheap, and growing ‘padi’ is not financially rewarding. As is with its language, farming is beginning to run away from the hearts of the Kadazan people. Comes Kaamatan, it’s a time for drinking. The new dimension in merry-making for the Kadazans is termed “Aramaiti”. Rice wine is a cheaper substitute to beer or other imported liquors. Kaamatan begins early in the month and brings worry for the traffic policemen, for obvious reason.

Thus, June began with so much sadness in SOS Rhino (Borneo) camp as we lost a brilliant man in Hayro Nuvin, fondly called Opop. He was back to his hometown of Narawang, which is located at the foot of the 4101-meter Mt. Kinabalu. His task was to recruit people for the position of Field Assistants. This was not a case of drink-driving but fate. On 6th June, I drove over to Narawang to meet up with Opop’s parents and family. I was accompanied by Gem Asildo, Dr. Thaya and Dr. Taranjit. It was a sad encounter at the church as another funeral was underway. Five fine young youths from this village perished in this freak accident. With Opop gone, the teams will now be in the hands of three young men who will lead each of the three RPUs – Amit Pilik, Suzali Jaya and Frederic Micheal.

Picture 1 shows team leaders from left - Suzali, Frederic and Amit

On 2nd June, I was at Sepilok with Opop and Helter to take measurements of Gelogob and Tanjung. What an interesting data that came out of this exercise! I shall share the findings in a separate paragraph. The breeding plan is been implemented at Sepilok by the wildlife department staffs supported by SOS Rhino (Borneo) field staffs. I will update this program as we move along. The female which was blind is now regaining some vision on her right eye. This credit goes to Dr. Rosa and her boys for being persistence in treating her eyes. I hope I did not say this too early.

I went over to Dagat on 10th June to check out how the two volunteers are doing, and how English class is moving. I was informed that all the field staffs have gathered at Dagat since 9th June and participated in the first ever English class. We have two volunteers from UK, Andrew and David, who saw our volunteer program’s need for English teachers and taken up this challenge. We have offered to provide the same class for the villagers. The first four young youths from Dagat village were in the class.

Picture 2 shows Andrew with his eager students

On the 11th June, I have a brief meeting with the village chief, and he is as usual, very grateful for SOS Rhino in having an English class in his village. On my way out of Dagat, I was given a rare view of about 30 wild pygmy Borneo elephants grazing para grass along the Tabin river. There was a tall, confident and relaxed bull elephant taking charge of his herds comprising many calves. The big ‘girls’ were not too happy as our wooden boat approached them. Three of them flapped their big ears, raised their trunks and trumpets while giving us the short charge. It was a spectacular sight. With grace, they disappeared into the forest. They will re-appear again in about 3 months when the grass is back to its heavy growth – green and succulent. The enormous amount of feces and urine from 30 elephants are contributing factor to such a recovery of the para grass.

Picture 3 shows a herd of about 30 pygmy elephants grazing along the Tabin river.

On the 12th June, I headed for Sepilok with Frederic and Marikus. We collected the same hoof and hoof print measurements of the rhinos the following day. These data is compared with the first measurement on 2nd June. Indeed, we have some interesting data which will make rhino field researchers more cautious about hoof prints.

Visit by Cathy Dean from UK Rhino Foundation

Cathy Dean, Chairperson of UK Rhino Foundation is in Sabah from 27th June 2005. In the afternoon, I accompanied Cathy, her husband Kenneth and friend Nick Cobbutt to pay a courtesy call on Mr. Mahedi Andau, Director of Wildlife Department Sabah at his office. Andau’s deputy Mr. Laurentius Ambu and senior officer Ms. Jumrafiah Abdul Shukor were also present. Cathy took time to brief them about her organization, its role in rhino conservation. She specifically mentioned about the current campaign of European zoos to save the rhinos. Cathy stated that Europeans are more inclined to African rhinos because of past historical link. Now that the Sumatran rhinos are in such a dire situation, more funds should be channeled towards their conservation. It is with this view that UK Rhino Foundation is focusing towards the Asian rhinos. Her first visit to Sabah will be a great eye-opener for her. In the evening we had seafood dinner with John Lo, Director of SOS Rhino (Borneo), Laura Bazan of Carlotas Borneo, Dr. Thaya, our Masters student and Mr. Leonard Alazar, conservation journalist for Borneo Post.

Cathy will visit the rhinos at Sepilok and will spend time to see Tabin reserve where the wild rhinos are surviving, and to experience SOS Rhino’s community outreach program. Cathy will be visiting the villages in the north of the reserve where SOS Rhino has a camp.


Andrew and David are still ‘locked’ in Dagat. The English class is drawing to an end. Basically, the class was like hot cake among the villagers but soon trickled down to few hardy ones. SOS Rhino staff continues with their lesson though. Both volunteers will be joining the field teams in rhino surveys starting early July.

Team leader Suzali Jaya has his hands full with two volunteers on rhino tracking exercise. First we have Mr. Awtar Singh, the father of Dr. Taranjeet Kaur the crocodile researcher joining Suzali to track the ‘baby’ rhino along the Tabin river on 24th June. Mr. Singh a retired Police officer left for home after reliving his jungle experience and his place was quickly replaced by Liza Hawley from Australia. Liza is a Biotechnology student in Sydney. She is volunteering until the 6th of July.

Picture 1 shows Mr. Awtar Singh and Liza Hawley with SOS Rhino (Borneo) field team in Tabin reserve.

Picture 2 shows Liza Hawley with Justine and Yusri behind one of Tabin’s big dipterocarp trees during the rhino survey

Briefing for Wildlife Department

On 28th June, I was given an opportunity by Mr. Mahedi Andau, Director of Wildlife Department Sabah, to brief him and his officers on the progress of SOS Rhino. Gem, SOS Rhino (Borneo)’s Development Officer was also present. In a nutshell, Mr. Andau is happy with the work on the rhinos at Sepilok. I have informed him of the technical assistance from the German veterinarians and also from Steve Romo and Dr. Janna Wynne from LA Zoo. He would like to see the breeding work continues until we are successful. Mr. Andau is also happy with the RPUs. He has asked his officers to quickly train and makes SOS Rhino field staffs honorary game wardens so that they can help with enforcement more effectively. He would like to see more join enforcement activities between his department and SOS Rhino (Borneo). Mr. Andau is happy that SOS Rhino is recruiting a rhino conservation officer for Sepilok and Tabin, and later to the Lok Kawi zoo in Kota Kinabalu. The task is to promote the rhinos among the visitors. The Director is also keen to jointly organize the rhino seminar in November 2005. He has assigned his senior officer Augustine Tuuga to work with SOS Rhino on this seminar. Mr. Andau also gave his blessing for SOS Rhino to use the TrekForce-built quarter located within the Tabin wildlife office compound. This will certainly helps in fostering a closer relationship with the wildlife department staffs.

Hoof prints of Sumatran rhinos at Sepilok

In most field research, the hoof prints are probably the best circumstantial evidence of Sumatran rhinos. They are solitary, few in number and scattered in deep remote forest. They leave behind hoof prints peculiar to the species – three toes. Our team has now successfully use hoof prints to determine the population. Our field teams will search for rhino tracks – the longer the better, and fresh, and with the aid of a Vernier caliper, the team will take at least 50 measurements of both the left and right front hoofs. A Inside and Outside calipers will also be used to support the hoof print measurements. Using statistic, the left and right data is compared. Then, each track will be compared with other tracks. Other considerations are the locations and dates of the tracks.

The data gathered from this exercise provides strong credence to our up and coming rhino surveys in Tabin reserve. The teams will be making a ‘fishbone’ transects and will be searching for fresh long rhino tracks as shown in Picture 4.

Picture 4 shows a typical fresh rhino tracks. The white powder is used to give more contrast for the photograph. The 1st hoof print is of the left front leg while the 2nd is that of the right front leg.

Findings from Sepilok

Table 1. Comparing hoof print measurements

*Hoof measurements on cement floor (mean) #Hoof prints measurements on ground (mean). D2 – length of middle digit. D1-3 – Width of medial to lateral digit

Picture 5 show hoofs of the front legs of male Tanjung (left) and female Gelogob (right).

    a. Similarity

    i. The two rhinos have almost similar toe (D2) and hoof size (D1-3) on the hind legs

    b. Differences

    i. Tanjung’s front legs D2 and D1-3 are bigger than that of his hind legs of the same

    ii. Gelogob’s front legs D2 and D1-3 are bigger than that of her hind legs of the same

    iii. Tanjung’s front legs D2 are bigger than Gelogob’s front legs D2

    iv. Tanjung’s front legs D1-3 are smaller than Gelogob’s front legs D1-3

    v. Hoof prints measurement on the ground is not the same as hoof measurements on animals standing on concrete floor.


These findings provide Sumatran rhino field researchers, an idea of how rhino hoofs are and their implications in the field. From these two rhinos, the front D1-3 and D2 measurements will be more relevant in differentiating the rhinos. We need more rhinos to ascertain this unique feature. It is also shown that the hoof measurements on solid ground are different from hoof prints measurements on soft ground.

Basically, the field teams need to know the left and right front hoof prints, and take as many measurements of D1-3 as possible from the rhino track, in particular on flat ground. Accurate measurement is vital. We then leave it to statistic to determine the rest. The other possible tools are genetic fingerprinting from dung sample, photo trap cameras and vocalization.

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