Sumatran rhino footprints found in Borneo
To confirm the presence of the rare animal, a second team comprised of WWF-Indonesia, the West Kutai Forestry Agency, Mulawarman University and local observers launched a follow-up survey that found more evidence of rhino footprints, active mud wallows, marks on tree trunks, and signs that the rhinoceros species had been feeding in the area.
The survey team also identified more than 20 plant species rhinos feed on in abundance in the area, including Dillenia supruticosa, Glochidion glomemerulatum and Nblia Japanica. The abundant food and the overall natural conditions of the area further support the findings.
“This is a very important finding to the world, and especially to Indonesia's conservation work, as this serves as a new record on the presence of Sumatran rhinos in East Kalimantan and especially in West Kutai,” said Bambang Noviyanto, the director for biodiversity conservation at the Forestry Ministry.
“Information surrounding the presence becomes important to draft strategies to protect the population, if it is found to be viable and breeding, and to educate [people living around] the habitat where [traces] of rhinos have been found,” continued Bambang.
Experts taking part in the survey stated that no visual sighting has been made to date, and also cautioned that it is still too early to confirm whether the signs were made by a group of rhinos or just one remaining individual.
Sumatran rhinos in Kalimantan were presumed extinct in early 1990s. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the rare animal as Critically Endangered, with a population of fewer than 275 individuals now living in the wild.
Commenting on the findings, WWF-Indonesia conservation director Nazir Foead said, “WWF-Indonesia together with all stakeholders will conduct a follow-up and more comprehensive survey to map rhinos' habitat preference and their population in West Kutai.”
“Based on the result of this survey, joint strategies and comprehensive and holistic action plans need to be immediately formulated.”
Nazir further stated that the conservation plan and efforts for Sumatran Rhinos needed to be long-term, and therefore sustainable funding was needed, partly to ensure that the work also benefit people living around the rhinos' habitat.
The head of the West Kutai district, Ismael Thomas SH. M.Si, said, “Rhinos, dolphins, clouded leopards and local buffalo are among God's creations that are getting rare, but apparently they're still alive in West Kutai”. Ismael added, “We must protect them, and the communities must live in harmony with nature.”
According to Ismael, the West Kutai administration is committed to protecting rhinos, and will immediately issue a law on Endangered Animal and Plant Protection.
In partnership with WWF Indonesia, the local government will form a team to study and investigate the presence of the animals, to decide on precise conservation policies and programs, as well as sources of funding to support efforts to protect rhinos.