No rhino, saving the rest

Tragic fate: Iman, the last surviving female Sumatran rhino, died on Nov 23, 2019. Sabah’s wildlife conservationists want to ensure that no other species die out like the Sumatran rhinoceros.

KOTA KINABALU: Efforts are underway by Sabah’s wildlife conservationists to ensure that no other species disappear, by making sure that they continue to thrive through specific breeding programmes, including assisted reproduction in the future.

This comes after the Sumatran rhinoceros went extinct in the wild in 2019.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said it did not want to see any other species going extinct in the future, especially when there are “ways and means” to avoid this.

“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 (also known as Sumatran rhino),” Tuuga said at the launch of the book, The Hairy Rhinoceros, by well-known conservationist Datuk Dr John Payne yesterday.

His speech was read by his deputy Roland Nun during the launch by Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Jafry Ariffin here.

Tuuga said 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.

The immediate challenge, said Tuuga, would lie in determining what exactly could be done to prevent further decline of the most endangered species.

He noted that Payne, in his book, had pointed towards conservation at “targeted habitat improvement inside protected areas”.

Tuuga said efforts were already underway in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve where “pastures – grass-rich areas” were being developed by Bring Back Our Rare Animals (Bora) for the Bornean banteng, which is Sabah’s wild cattle species, and for the Bornean pygmy elephants.

He said a 5ha site of pasture developed on an old logging road for the Bornean banteng had seen a three-fold increase in the number of births in the herd this year compared to each of the previous three years.

Another site is being developed in Tabin for elephants.

“The idea is that, with time, elephants will tend to prefer to stay inside the reserve because of food abundance there,” he said, adding that another proposal in Payne’s book was to establish new populations of endangered species in appropriate protected areas.

Tuuga said there is a future with the potential of advanced – 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,” he said.

He said samples of semen with sperm of 11 of Sabah’s native wildlife species, including the pangolin, sun bear and clouded leopard, were being maintained in liquid nitrogen, which was in the process of being handed over to the Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Faculty of Sustainable Agriculture at the Sandakan campus.

Tuuga said the book also served as an important historical record and a guide for the future, not only in Sabah, but globally.

In his speech, Jafry commended Payne for his attention to detail and for providing some bold and important analyses in his book.

“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.

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Sumatran rhinoceros , animal , extinct


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