KOTA KINABALU: Sabah's wildlife conservationists are geared up to ensure that no other species disappear following the extinction of the Sumatran rhinoceros in 2019.
Efforts are underway to ensure the Borneo pygmy elephants, banteng (wild buffalo) and pangolins, among others, continue to thrive in Sabah's wild through specific breeding programmes as well as prepare for scientific assisted reproduction in the future.
Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said they do not want to see any other species going extinct especially when there were "ways and means" to avoid it.
"I think the main lesson is to be proactive and not to let any species become so depleted that its recovery becomes very difficult or even impossible.
"That was the tragedy of the Hairy rhino (the Sumatran rhino)," he said at the launching of the book "The Hairy Rhinoceros" written by well-known conservationist Datuk Dr John Payne on Thursday (Sept 22) by Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Jafry Ariffin.
Tuuga’s speech was read by Sabah Wildlife deputy director Roland Nun.
He added that another lesson was that "active interventions" were sometimes needed to conserve critically endangered species.
"Also vital are the protection and law enforcement. We can now see that some form of management of the habitat or even of the animals themselves may be needed to sustain or recover the most endangered wildlife species," he said.
Tuuga said the immediate challenge lies in determining what exactly could be done to prevent further declines of the most endangered species.
He noted that Payne, in his book, pointed towards conservation at "targeted habitat improvement inside protected areas".
“Efforts are already underway in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve where "pastures - grass-rich areas" are developed by Bora (Bring Back Our Rare Animals), for the Bornean banteng, a Sabah's wild cattle species, and for the Bornean pygmy elephants.
“The 5ha of pastures developed on an old logging road for the Bornean banteng has seen a three-fold increase in births in the same herd this year compared to each of the previous three years,” he said, adding that another site was being developed in Tabin for elephants.
"The idea is that, with time, elephants will tend to prefer to stay inside the reserve because of greater food abundance there," he said.
Tuuga also said that there was a future with potential of advanced or also known as assisted reproductive technology.
“An underlying idea is that, with ongoing advances in this field, animals alive today might contribute their genes to future generations of rare species.
“Samples of semen with sperm are maintained in liquid nitrogen for 11 of Sabah’s native wildlife species including the pangolin, sun bear and clouded leopard.
“The laboratory is in the process of handing over the samples to Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Faculty of Sustainable Agriculture at the Sandakan campus,” he said.
Jafry meanwhile commended Payne for his attention to detail and for providing some bold and important analyses in his book.
"And for looking in detail at the human elements but at the same time not apportioning blame to any particular agency. Using the name Hairy rhino, instead of Sumatran rhino, makes sense.
"With Sabah’s commitments to forest conservation, and Malaysia’s commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, we expect to see very little further habitat loss.
"Poaching may be a bigger threat than habitat loss but, as the book stresses, we need to take care of births, as well as deaths, in endangered species," he said.