KOTA KINABALU, Sept 22 — After the loss of Borneo’s own Sumatran rhinoceros, Sabah’s wildlife conservationists are making plans to help ensure other species — like the Borneon elephants and Borneon Banteng — do not go extinct in the future.
Sabah Wildlife Department director said some of the lessons learned from the failed conservation of the “hairy rhinoceros”, are being proactive in ensuring no species becomes so scarce that recovery becomes too difficult and intervening early when and if possible.
He said several efforts were already underway to ensure the survival of the Borneon Banteng, or wild cattle, and the Bornean elephants which are on the decline including “targeted habitat improvement” which is developing grass-rich pastures in the protected area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve.
“Already, from five hectares of pasture developed on an old logging road, there has been a three-fold increase in births in the same herd of Borneon Banteng this year, compared to each of the previous three years,” he said.
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 greater food abundance there,” he said.
Both the Borneon Banteng and the Borneon Pygmy elephants are classified as endangered with populations estimated to be 500 and 1,500 respectively.
One of the other proposals in the book is to establish new populations of endangered species in appropriate protected areas, which has been done with some success with the translocation of orangutans into Tabin in the 1990s, and of elephants from problem areas into central Sabah.
However, moving wild animals into areas they are unfamiliar with presents its own issues.
“A third idea is that big land-owners could contribute space for wildlife. In other words, for wildlife, we will not necessarily need to rely wholly on lands set aside by the government as forest reserves.
“The idea is already being implemented in the Kinabatangan region, where at least two NGOs are planting orangutan food plants on set-aside lands such as riparian zones, steep slopes and swamps inside oil palm plantations,” said Tuuga.
Tuuga said this during his speech at the launching of the book The Hairy Rhinoceros written by conservationist Datuk John Payne. His speech was read by his deputy Roland Nuin.
The department will also engage in “conservation breeding”, or captive breeding of animals in closely-managed, custom-designed, fenced facilities.
“At the present time, my department is planning to form a captive breeding herd of Bornean Banteng. Such programmes should not be undertaken lightly, as they are demanding on costs, time and dedicated staff.
“However, we are confident with the Bornean Banteng, because it is a member of the cattle family, and methods of cattle husbandry and reproduction are very well-known,” he said.
The department is also keeping its options open for future technology in assisted reproductive technology where animals from today may contribute their genes to future generations of rare species, including those of the Borneon rhinoceros whose cell samples are being preserved.
He said samples of semen with sperm are maintained in liquid nitrogen, of 11 Sabah native wildlife species including pangolin, sun bear and clouded leopard.
Aside from early and active interventions, Tuuga said that protection and law enforcement are also vital and 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.
Tuuga said the book serves as an important historical record and a guide for the future, not only in Sabah, but globally.