Baby for rare Borneo rhino?

2010-04-21 07:33

Malaysian conservationists caught on film a Sumatran rhinoceros

thought to be pregnant, raising hopes that the critically endangered species on

Borneo island was breeding in the wild.

A remote controlled camera set up in a forest in Sabah state on

Borneo captured a still picture of the rhino on February 25, said Raymond Alfred

of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

It is the first such image in the wild of a female thought to be

pregnant, providing cheer to conservationists after the initial failure of a

breeding-in-captivity program for the Borneo Sumatran rhino, whose numbers are

believed to have dwindled to less than 30.

Alfred said: “The size of the rhino is quite extraordinary. Based

on the shape and the size of the body and stomach, it would appear that the

rhino is pregnant.”

But it is difficult to be conclusive on the basis of the picture

alone, he said.

Another 50 cameras have been set up in the area to gather more

evidence about the female, which appears to be 20 years old, he said, adding

that researchers were also trying to find its dung for analysis.

Government officials and WWF experts had set up the first camera in

January and retrieved it last week, Alfred said.

The picture shows the Borneo Sumatran rhino – a subspecies of the

bristly, snub-nosed rhino native to Indonesia’s Sumatra island – wallowing in

the soil to cool off and protect her body.

“The most important thing now is to ensure that this area is

protected from logging activity,” Alfred said, declining to disclose the rhino’s

exact whereabouts.

Malaysia’s Borneo Sumatran rhino population has declined from some

200 about a half-century ago as they are hunted for Chinese medicine and crowded

out through deforestation and palm oil plantations. Conservationists have warned

the rhinos could face extinction in the next 10 years.

Alfred said conservationists have tried but so far failed to rescue

isolated rhinos that have been cut off from the rest by deforestation and make

them breed.

Only one male rhino named Tam was rescued in the last two years. It

was hoped Tam would mate with a female in captivity, but she turned out to be

too old to reproduce, Alfred said.

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