Sabah will not let another species go extinct after Hairy rhino tragedy, says wildlife director

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s conservationists are prepared to ensure no other species disappear after the Sumatran rhino went extinct in 2019.

Efforts are being made to ensure that the Borneo dwarf elephant, banteng (wild buffalo) and pangolin, among others, continue to thrive in the Sabah wilderness through dedicated breeding programs and prepare for science-assisted reproduction in the future.

Augustine Tuuga, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, said they didn’t want other species to go extinct, especially if there were “ways and means” to avoid it.

“I think the most important lesson is to be proactive and not allow a species to 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 launch of The Hairy Rhinoceros, a book by noted conservationist Datuk Dr. John Payne on Thursday (September 22) by Tourism, Culture and Environment Secretary Datuk Jafry Ariffin.

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Tuuga’s speech was read by Sabah Wildlife Deputy Director Roland Nun.

He added that another lesson was that sometimes “active interventions” are needed to conserve endangered species.

“Protection and law enforcement are also vital. We can now see that some form of habitat management, or even the animals themselves, may be required to conserve or restore the most endangered wildlife species,” he said.

Tuuga said the immediate challenge is determining what exactly could be done to prevent further declines in the most endangered species.

He noted that Payne referred to conservation in his book as “directed habitat enhancement in protected areas.”

“Efforts are already underway at Tabin Wildlife Reserve, where Bora (Bring Back Our Rare Animals) ‘Pastures – Grassy Areas’ are being developed for the Borneo banteng, a wild bovine species of Sabah, and for the Borneo pygmy elephant.

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“The 5 ha of pastures developed on an old forest road for the Bornean Banteng have seen a triple increase in births in the same herd this year compared to any of the previous three years,” he said, adding that another Location developed in Tabin for elephants.

“The idea is that over time elephants will tend to stay in the reserve because there is more food there,” he said.

Tuuga also said there is a future with potential for advanced technology, also known as assisted reproductive technology.

“An underlying idea is that as advances in this field continue, animals alive today might pass their genes on to future generations of rare species.”

“Semen samples containing sperm are being stored in liquid nitrogen for 11 of Sabah’s native wildlife species, including the pangolin, sun bear and clouded leopard.

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“The lab is in the process of handing over the samples to Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Faculty of Sustainable Agriculture on the Sandakan campus,” he said.

Jafry, meanwhile, commended Payne for his attention to detail and for providing some bold and important analysis in his book.

“And for looking at the human elements in detail, but at the same time not blaming any particular agency. Using the name Hairy Rhino instead of Sumatran Rhino makes sense.

“With Sabah’s forest conservation commitments and Malaysia’s commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, we expect very little further habitat loss.

“Poaching may be a greater threat than habitat loss, but as the book emphasizes, we need to address births and deaths of endangered species,” he said.

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