Quantcast

Researchers Celebrate First Live Encounter With Sumatran Rhino in Borneo for 40+ Years

Animals

Researchers announced the first live encounter with a Sumatran rhino in Borneo for more than 40 years. But t-he human pressures that have pushed this species to the brink of extinction are still very much in play.

A rhino in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park, Indonesia (2008). Photo credit: Willem v Strien / Greenpeace

An excited World Wildlife Fund (WWF) team released details of how the female rhino was safely captured in East Kalimantan (part of Indonesian Borneo) last month and has now been transported to a more protected region. Over the last few years, evidence from camera traps and footprints has indicated that these rhinos still survived in Borneo's forests, but this is the first known encounter with a live animal since the early 1970s.

The rather inaccurately-named Sumatran rhino was once found across large swathes of southern and south-east Asia, but in modern times has survived only in Malaysia and Indonesia. Just last year, it was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia and now Indonesia is the rhino's last refuge.

The discovery of one more rhino is fantastic, but in reality this news does little to secure the future of the species as a whole. These rhinos are still perilously close to extinction, surviving in tiny, scattered populations which are exquisitely vulnerable to any kind of threat, of which there are many.

A significant problem is the destruction of the rhinos' rainforest habitat, largely due to the ongoing expansion of the palm oil and pulpwood industries. In fact, some of the East Kalimantan rhinos have been detected in an area containing oil palm plantations, as well as a coal mine and "production forest" (which are areas in which selected trees are logged, damaging and degrading the forest or opening them up to plantations).

Deforestation, like this place in North Barito, Central Kalimantan threatens species like orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos. Photo credit: Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace

Taking away the trees robs the rhinos of their natural food sources and according to WWF they're often forced to venture into logged areas to feed on new plant growth or crops. This makes them more vulnerable to the most direct and imminent threat: poaching. Rhino horn—even the relatively small ones possessed by Sumatran rhinos—fetch huge prices and rhinos are valuable targets even though trade is illegal.

The double whammy of habitat loss and poaching has reduced rhino numbers to perilously low levels. The latest reports suggest there are little more than 100 left in the wild. These tiny populations living in fragments of forest also become susceptible to chance local events like disease or natural disasters, so it can take just one freak storm to obliterate a small outlying group and nudge the species even closer to extinction. Without the means to travel about safely under forest cover, these groups can't meet to interbreed and genetic diversity becomes an issue as inbreeding leads to less healthy and less successful rhinos.

Diseases and storms will always happen though. What needs to change is human behavior. The commercial drive to turn ever-increasing areas of forest over to plantation industries must be challenged because this isn't just a problem for the Sumatran rhino. Orangutans, tigers and elephants are the species that are conspicuously disappearing, but habitat loss also affects less charismatic creatures like amphibians and insects, as well as trees such as ramin which is protected internationally but also logged illegally.

An orangutan on the banks of the Rungan river in Central Kalimantan province. Fires raged in a critical orangutan habitat in October 2015, including here on the edges of the Nyaru Menteng orangutan sanctuary. Photo credit: Ardiles Rante / Greenpeace

The newly-discovered rhino is being shepherded to relative safety and her presence does increase the chances of survival if she can give birth to healthy calves, but so much more needs to be done. Protecting forests on a grand scale is the only way we're going to prevent these species from slipping away—not just pockets here and there, but at landscape and ecosystem levels to provide the huge areas that large animals like tigers and elephants need to survive, as well as the space for millions of forest species to thrive.

Without a wholesale shift to safeguarding entire forests, Sumatran rhinos and many species have little chance of surviving outside zoos. And that is a sad, sad thought.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Leonardo DiCaprio Faces Deportation Threat After Criticizing Indonesia’s Palm Oil Industry

Photo Ark: One Man’s Journey to Save the World’s Most Endangered Species

First New Butterfly Species Found in Alaska in 28 Years: Is it an Ancient Hybrid?

SeaWorld to End Captive Breeding of Killer Whales

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Jennifer Molidor, PhD

Climate change, habitat loss and pollution are overwhelming our planet. Thankfully, these enormous threats are being met by a bold new wave of environmental activism.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump mocked water-efficiency standards in new constructions last week. Trump said, "People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once. They end up using more water. So, EPA is looking at that very strongly, at my suggestion." Trump asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a federal review of those standards since, he claimed with no evidence, that they are making bathrooms unusable and wasting water, as NBC News reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
(L) Rushing waters of Victoria Falls at Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Zimbabwe pictured in January 2018. Edwin Remsberg / VW PICS / UIG / Getty Images (R) Stark contrast of Victory Falls is seen on Nov. 13, 2019 after drought has caused a decline. ZINYANGE AUNTONY / AFP / Getty Images

The climate crisis is already threatening the Great Barrier Reef. Now, another of the seven natural wonders of the world may be in its crosshairs — Southern Africa's iconic Victoria Falls.

Read More Show Less

Monsanto's former chairman and CEO Hugh Grant speaks about "The Coming Agricultural Revolution" on May 17, 2016. Fortune Brainstorm E / Flickr

By Carey Gillam

Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant will have to testify in person at a St. Louis-area trial set for January in litigation brought by a cancer-stricken woman who claims her disease was caused by exposure to the company's Roundup herbicide and that Monsanto covered up the risks instead of warning consumers.

Read More Show Less
A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.