WASHINGTON – WWF has captured the first-ever "camera trap" footage of a species that just a few people have ever seen. WWF and Malaysia’s Sabah Wildlife Department released footage of a Borneo Rhino which shows it eating, walking to the camera and sniffing the equipment. The first still photo of a Borneo rhino was captured only last year.
Scientists estimate there are between 25 and 50 rhinos left on the island of Borneo, the last survivors of the Bornean subspecies of Sumatran rhinos. The rhinos live only in the interior forests of Sabah, Malaysia, an area known as the "Heart of Borneo."
"These are very shy animals that are almost never seen by people," said Mahedi Andau, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department. "This video gives us an amazing opportunity to spy on the rhino’s behavior."
There have been no confirmed reports of rhinos on Borneo apart from those in Sabah for almost 20 years, leading experts to fear that the species may now be extinct on the rest of the island. The rhino’s threats include poaching, illegal encroachment into key rhino habitats, and the fact that the remaining rhinos are so isolated that they may rarely or never meet to breed.
"This astonishing footage captures of one of the world’s most elusive creatures," said Carter Roberts, CEO and president of World Wildlife Fund. "Tremendous progress has been made in recent years to secure the rhino’s habitat but so much more needs to be done considering this species may very well disappear in the next 10 years."
The video is the result of a custom-built camera trap developed by Stephen Hogg at WWF-Malaysia. Hogg first used the camera to capture images of tigers on Peninsular Malaysia. WWF uses camera traps primarily to study animals that are rarely seen in the wild. The images help to, for instance, determine the condition of species, identify individual animals and show how animals behave in the wild.
Recently, the ministers of the three Bornean governments – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia – signed an historic Declaration to conserve and sustainably manage the Heart of Borneo. This has put the area on the global stage of conservation priorities.
The video, along with new still images of the rhinos, can be viewed at http://www.worldwildlife.org/borneorhino
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- The rhinos found on Borneo are regarded as a subspecies of the Sumatran rhinos, which means they have different physical characteristics to rhinos found in Sumatra (Indonesia) and Peninsular Malaysia. The Sumatran rhino is one of the world's most critically endangered species, with small numbers found only in Sumatra (Indonesia), Sabah (on the northern end of Borneo) and Peninsular Malaysia. See WWF’s Asian rhino factsheet at http://www.panda.org/news_facts/publications/
- Conservationists hope that the population is viable and will be able to reproduce if protected from poaching. However, a high proportion of females have reproductive problems. Many of the remaining rhinos are old and possibly beyond reproductive age. The death rate may be exceeding birth rate.
- Sabah and the forests of the "Heart of Borneo" still hold huge tracts of continuous natural forests, which are some of the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth, with high numbers of unique animal and plant species. It is one of only two places in the world – Indonesia's Sumatra island is the other – where orangutans, elephants and rhinos still co-exist and where forests are currently large enough to maintain viable populations.
- WWF, Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and SOS Rhino are currently conducting on-the-ground monitoring to protect key rhino habitat in Sabah. However, based on the field survey and patrol in several key habitats in Sabah, a single field enforcement activity will not be effective without an integrated awareness programme and the willingness of the public and other agencies to cooperate to protect rhino habitats.
- Sabah Forestry Department is leading the acquisition of a 200-hectare forest corridor to be secured as rhino habitat, and is strengthening security within this portion of the Heart of Borneo with the support of Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Foundation and WWF-Malaysia.