WWF captures extraordinary video of rare Sumatran rhino | WWF Malaysia

WWF captures extraordinary video of rare Sumatran rhino

Posted on 24 April 2007
Borneo rhino captured in the wild by camera trap
Borneo rhino captured in the wild by camera trap
© WWF-Malaysia/S. Hogg
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, 24 April 2007
A video “camera trap” positioned inside the forest of Sabah has captured rare footage of an elusive Sumatran rhinoceros, WWF-Malaysia and Sabah Wildlife Department announced today.

The two-minute video – showing the animal eating, walking to the camera and sniffing the equipment – is the first-ever footage of behaviour in the wild of one of the world’s rarest rhinos.

Scientists estimate there are only between 25 and 50 rhinos left on the island of Borneo. These last survivors of the Bornean subspecies of Sumatran rhinoceros are believed to remain only in the interior forests of Sabah, an area known as the “Heart of Borneo”. The rhinos are so elusive that the first-ever still photo of one was captured only last year.

“These are very shy animals that are almost never seen by people and so this video gives us an amazing opportunity to spy on the rhino’s behaviour,” said Mahedi Andau, Director of the Sabah Wildlife Department.

The rhinos in Sabah spend their lives in dense forest where they are rarely seen, which accounts for the lack of any previous photographs of them in the wild.

The video camera trap that captured the footage was developed by Stephen Hogg, Head of Audio Visual at WWF-Malaysia. After successfully testing the newly developed video camera trap on the Malayan tigers in Peninsular Malaysia, it was set up in Sabah to capture the Sumatran rhinoceros. Photos and video footages can determine the condition of rhinos, help identify individual animals and show how they behave in the wild.

“We did a pilot test with two of my video cameras in an area that the field team had determined was used by rhinos. The first time we checked them, after four weeks, there were these fantastic images,” Hogg said. “This is further proof that these video cameras do work and are of value to our conservation work. This footage is awesome and could not have been better.”

On Borneo, there have been no confirmed reports of rhinos apart from those in Sabah for almost 20 years, leading experts to fear that the species may now be extinct on the rest of the island. Major threats include poaching, illegal encroachment into key rhino habitats, and the fact that the remaining rhinos are so isolated that they may rarely or never meet to breed.

“The photos and video footages will be used to determine the condition of the rhinos in the wild,” said Raymond Alfred, Project Manager for WWF-Malaysia’s Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS). “But we have to realise that these rhinos could face extinction in the next ten years if their habitat continues to be disturbed and enforcement is not in place.”

“Sabah Forestry Department is leading the acquisition of a 200-hectare forest corridor to be secured as rhino habitat, and is strengthening security within this portion of the Heart of Borneo with the support of Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Foundation and WWF-Malaysia,” said Datuk Sam Mannan, Director of Sabah Forestry Department.

Recently, the ministers of the three Bornean governments – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia – signed a historic Declaration to conserve and sustainably manage the Heart of Borneo. This has put the area on the global stage of conservation priorities.

Sumatran rhinoceros conservation in Sabah is currently supported by Honda Malaysia, WWF-Netherlands, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  

•  The video, along with new still images of the rhinos, can be viewed at http://www.panda.org/borneorhino.

•  For broadcast-standard video supporting this press release, please visit:
www.thenewsmarket.com/wwf If you are a first-time user, please take a moment to register. In case you have any questions, please email wwf@thenewsmarket.com

•  The rhinos found in Sabah are regarded as a subspecies of the Sumatran rhinoceros, which means they have different physical characteristics to rhinos found in Sumatra (Indonesia) and Peninsular Malaysia. The Sumatran rhinoceros is one of the world's most critically endangered species, with small numbers found only in Sumatra (Indonesia), Sabah (on the northern end of Borneo) and Peninsular Malaysia.

•  Conservationists hope that the population is viable and will be able to reproduce if protected from poaching. However, a high proportion of females have reproductive problems. Many of the remaining rhinos are old and possibly beyond reproductive age. The death rate may be exceeding birth rate. A full-time rhino monitoring team was established at the end of 2005 in Sabah to monitor the rhinos and their habitat, and keep poachers away. The rhino conservation work in Sabah is supported by Honda Malaysia, WWF-Netherlands, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

•  Sabah and the forests of the “Heart of Borneo” still hold huge tracts of continuous natural forests, which are some of the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth, with high numbers of unique animal and plant species. It is one of only two places in the world –Indonesia's Sumatra Island is the other – where orang-utans, elephants and rhinos still co-exist and where forests are currently large enough to maintain viable populations.

•  Borneo's three nations (Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia) are committed to conserve the “Heart of Borneo,” 240,000 square kilometres of equatorial rainforest, through a network of protected areas and sustainably managed forest, and through international co-operation led by the Bornean governments and supported by WWF-Malaysia.

•  WWF-Malaysia, Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and SOS Rhino are currently conducting on-the-ground monitoring to protect key rhino habitat in Sabah. However, based on the field survey and patrol in several key habitats in Sabah, a single field enforcement activity will not be effective without an integrated awareness programme and the willingness of the public and other agencies to cooperate to protect rhino habitats.

•  About Honda’s Involvement in Rhino Rescue Project
Honda Malaysia together with WWF-Malaysia has initiated and committed to a 5-year project to save the Sumatran rhinoceros, the nation’s most endangered animal. Honda Malaysia has pledged a contribution of RM5 million to WWF-Malaysia to enable WWF-Malaysia to further strengthen the Sumatran rhinoceros conservation efforts. The project also aims to raise awareness and educate the future generation and Malaysian public on environmental and conservation issues through various activities.

For further information:
Angela Lim, Senior Communications Officer, WWF-Malaysia Borneo Programme
Tel: +6088 262 420, E-mail: alim@wwf.org.my
Borneo rhino captured in the wild by camera trap
Borneo rhino captured in the wild by camera trap
© WWF-Malaysia/S. Hogg Enlarge
Stephen developing the video camera trap
Stephen developing the video camera trap
© WWF-Malaysia/S. Abu Enlarge
Raymond and Stephen checking the video camera trap in the forest
Raymond and Stephen checking the video camera trap in the forest
© WWF-Malaysia/F. Jessius Enlarge