Posted by: Craig Woolheater on April 25th, 2007
The WWF has released what they are claiming is the first-ever footage of an elusive Borneo rhino.
WWF captures extraordinary video of rare Borneo rhino
A video “camera trap” positioned inside the jungle has captured rare footage of an elusive Borneo rhino, WWF and Malaysia’s Sabah Wildlife Department announced today.
The 2 minute video — showing the animal eating, walking to the camera and sniffing the equipment — is the first-ever footage of observing the 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 rhinos are believed to remain only in the interior forests of Sabah, Malaysia — an area known as the “Heart of Borneo.” The rhinos are so secretive that the first-ever still photo of one was captured last year.
“These are very shy animals that are almost never seen by people,” said Mahedi Andau, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department. “This video gives us an amazing opportunity to spy on the rhino’s behaviour.”
The rhinos in Sabah spend their lives in dense jungle 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 rhino footage was developed by Stephen Hogg, Head of Audio Visual at WWF-Malaysia. After successfully testing the newly developed camera trap on Malayan tigers in Peninsula Malaysia, it was set up in Sabah to capture the Sumatran rhino. Photos and video footage 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 footage will be used to determine the condition of the rhinos in the wild,” said Raymond Alfred, project manager for WWF’s Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS). “But we have to realize that these rhinos could face extinction in the next ten years if their habitat continues to be disturbed and enforcement is not in place.”
Recently, the ministers of the three Bornean governments – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia – signed an historic Declaration to conserve and sustainably manage the Heart of Borneo. This has put the area on the global stage of conservation priorities.
• The rhinos found on Borneo are regarded as a subspecies of the Sumatran rhinos, which means they have different physical characteristics to rhinos found in Sumatra (Indonesia) and Peninsular Malaysia. The Sumatran rhino 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.
• 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.
• WWF, 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.
• 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.WWF