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  SOS Rhino : In the News : News From The Field : RHINO BREEDING CENTER AT SEPILOK
 
RHINO BREEDING CENTER AT SEPILOK
  The rhino-breeding centre is part of the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia. It is managed and maintained by the Sabah Wildlife Department (Jabatan Hidupan Liar). The rhinos in the breeding centre are a subspecies of the Sumatran rhino called "Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni". There may be fewer than 50 of this type of rhino left in the world.


Picture 1: Dr. Rosa, the veterinarian and head of the Centre, at the entrance to the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok


Picture 2: Some of the staff of the Wildlife Department in Sepilok, from the left: Adrianus, Melvine, Dr. Rosa, Silvia, Elis and Shani

The female Sumatran rhino housed at the breeding centre is named Gelugob. She is approximately 25 years old. She is a very vocal animal who loves to spend most of the time in a mud wallow. The male rhino, named Tanjung, is approximately 15 years old. He is still young compared to Gelugob and more active. The rhinos were brought to Sepilok between 1990 and 1992.


Picture 3: Gelugob, the female Sumatran rhino in Sepilok, lying in her favourite mud wallow


Picture 4: Tanjung, the male rhino in Sepilok

In the mid 80`s, the Wildlife Department initiated a breeding project in Sepilok as another option in the conservation of this species. Tanjung and Gelugob were captured in the wild and brought to Sepilok because their habitat was disappearing, and they were isolated from other populations of rhinos. Since then several breeding attempts were conducted; one resulting in a conception, but the pregnancy lasted only for three months. SOS Rhino is assisting the Wildlife Department in their efforts to breed the rhinos. This involves assessing the reproductive integrity of the male and female rhinos, research, management and husbandry, and evaluation of the health of the rhinos.

Breeding Sumatran rhinos in captivity is a very challenging task. In the past 100 years, a total of 40 Sumatran rhinos were kept in captivity. In these 100 years, only two calves were bred and born in captivity, and only six of the original 40 animals are still alive. The Sumatran rhino is one of the least studied and least known mammals, because of its elusive character, its rarity and the inhospitable nature of its habitat. Hardly anything is known about its biology, habitat requirements, and reproductive behaviour. The lack of information is part of the reason for the low reproductive success.

Another difficulty is that the male and non - oestrous female Sumatran rhino caannot be kept in the same enclosure as they are very likely to fight. The male and female can only be kept together when she is in oestrus. It is therefore crucial to determine the time of mating correctly. One goal of our research in Sepilok is to find indices that help detect the time of oestrous and therefore the right time for mating. Basic data such as the hormone concentration and the behaviour will help to determine the period.

Due to this lack of information, SOS rhino is supplementing its work in Sepilok with research and conservation efforts in the wild. SOS Rhino provides funding for a local Masters student, a program officer, and staff to support rhino research and protection efforts in Sabah. SOS Rhino is also funding projects to develop new tools for assisted breeding of captive rhinos. One of the projects that SOS Rhino funded resulted in the first successful artificial insemination of a rhinoceros in September 2004.


Picture 5: The SOS Rhino team in Sepilok: Benji, Justin, and Dr. Petra with Dr. Nan, and Dr. Rosa

The work of the SOS Rhino team in Sepilok involves 1) evaluation of the reproductive integrity of the male and female, 2) breeding, 3) standardisation of husbandry and management practices, and 4) public awareness.

Dr. Petra and her two staff conduct behaviour observation, and collect blood and faeces, to determine the time of oestrous. The rhinos are conditioned - they walk in to a so-called "chute" which permits easy sample collection. The blood and faecal samples provide information about the fluctuation of the hormone level, while certain behaviour pattern such as distance between male and female, the number of masturbations of the male and other signs indicate the interest of the sexes in each other.


Picture 6: Benji conducting behaviour observations of Gelugob


Picture 7: Silih and Benji monitoring the interaction between Tanjung and Gelugob

The team in Sepilok gets support by Dr. Nan Schaffer, the founder of SOS Rhino. She is a specialist in ultrasound analysis. She regularly visits the breeding centre and conducts rectal ultrasound to examine the reproductive tract of the female and to monitor the activity of the ovaries.


Picture 8: Dr. Nan conducting ultrasound on Tanjung

The SOS Rhino team also supports the Wildlife Department staff in their daily work with the rhinos. They help in collecting the food, cleaning the facilities, and maintenance of the enclosure. Just to give you an idea how much work it is to feed the rhinos in Sepilok: a total of ± 100 kg of browse is being collected and fed to the rhinos every day.

Sepilok is also an ideal place to raise awareness among locals and foreigners about the situation of the Sumatran rhinos. Hundreds of tourists and locals visit the centre every day. SOS Rhino has put up an exhibit in the entrance hall as well as in nearby restaurant. We distribute leaflets with information about the rhinos and our work, and we have developed new T-shirts, which are being sold in the centre.

2004 Update on SOS Rhino at Sepilok Rhino Breeding Center





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