A team from World Wildlife Fund (WWF)‘s Indonesia office and the local Forestry Ministry’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency have discovered fresh footprints similar to those of an extremely rare rhinoceros thought extinct from the area. The team came across the footprints while conducting an orangutan search in an area in West Kutai District, East Kalimantan, in Borneo.
WWF-Indonesia, the West Kutai Forestry Agency, Mulawarman University and local experts then launched a follow-up survey to study the rhino tracks. Along with several footprints, the survey team identified markings from a rhino horn in the mud and on tree trunks, and discovered signs of rhino’s feeding.
Based on the findings and historical records of rhinos in East Kalimantan, the footprints have been scientifically confirmed as belonging to the Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) by rhino experts from WWF-Indonesia and the Mulawarman University’s School of Forestry’s Candra D. Boer.
The survey team also identified more than 20 plant species that rhinos eat, including Dillenia supruticosa, Glochidion glomemerulatum and Nblia Japanica.
Experts involved with the survey stated that these findings show proof of the rhinos’ presence, although there was no direct evidence in the form of a visual sighting. It is also not possible to confirm at this point in time whether these signs were made by a few rhinos or just one remaining individual.
“It is exciting news to find a population in an area where the species was long thought extinct,” said Barney Long, WWF’s Asian species expert. “However, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to preserve every individual of the species as its survival is currently hanging from the thinnest thread.”
“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 wherein [traces] of rhinos have been found,” continued Bambang. In the future, more cooperation is needed with many parties, including local communities, corporations and others, to determine correct measures to support conservation efforts of Sumatran rhinos in Kalimantan.
Footage of the survey team identifying markings from a rhino horn in the mud and on tree trunks (credit WWF-Indonesia):
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.” Nazir added, “Based on the result of this survey, joint strategies and comprehensive and holistic action plans need to be immediately formulated.” Nazir further said 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.
Ismael added, “We must protect them, and the communities must live in harmony with nature.” According to Ismael, West Kutai stores high biodiversity and is an important part of Heart of Borneo, therefore the West Kutai administration is committed to protecting and saving rhinos, and will immediately issue a By 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 and to decide suitable short and long terms conservation policies and programs.