German campaign to protect rhino from extinction
BERLIN Tuesday 17 November 2009
Sabah's pigmy rhinoceros are becoming something of a mascot for Malaysia's tropical forest in Germany, given the intense interest in saving the highly endangered species from extinction and with it the tropical forest.
Various animal lovers' associations as well conservation societies in Germany have gone on the offensive to highlight the fact that there are only 50 animals left of the these rhinoceros (dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrisoni) which is a subspecies of the Sumatran rhinoceros.
Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoological and Wild Animal Research have started, together with the Leipzig Zoo, the Malaysian government, the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Borneo Rhino Alliance, on an extensive programme for the protection and further reproduction of the animal.
"It is high time that we rescued this species. This rhino is a cultural heritage of our region. We now need professional expertise," Datuk Masidi Manjun, the Sabah Minister for Tourism, Culture and Environment, was quoted as saying when he received a group of researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoological and Wildlife Research and Leipzig Zoo last week.
It is described as an indicator species for an intact ecosystem in the lowland tropical forest. If this umbrella species dies out, other countless species living under the ecological protection umbrella of the Sabah rhinoceros will also disappear.
Helping hand from Leipniz institute
"The scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoological and Wild Animal Research will help us with their expertise in the area of reproduction medicine to determine the health and fertility status of the animals," Dr Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department said after a meeting of all the project partners in Kota Kinabalu.
According to Ambu, the experts will moot proposals to the Malaysian side on how to establish a successful breeding programme for the species. The Sabah rhinoceros, which is only 1.30 metre shoulder high, is the world's smallest rhinoceros.
Its habitat, the flatland tropical forest of Sabah on Borneo island, is threatened because of the proliferating palm oil plantations. As a result, the unique animal is separated from its kind and cannot breed successfully.
A German researcher told Bernama that the Malaysian government had already set up a breeding station together with the Borneo Rhino Alliance for Sabah rhinoceros. In this sanctuary, the animals will have the opportunity to breed.
"We must, first of all, examine whether the animals are capable of reproducing," Dr. Petra Kretzschmar from the Leibniz Institute was reported as saying.
Fertility of the animal a cause for concern
This is because there are indications, according to German researchers, that the fertility of the animals may have been impaired as a result of the use of pesticides for cultivation of oil palm trees.
In order to protect this species, the German researchers say that it is important to act fast. Hence, the researchers would like to try artificial fertilisation, using state-of-the-art methods for assisted reproduction of mammals.
A specialist team of doctors from the Leibniz Institute headed by Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt, who has already achieved spectacular success in the breeding of rhinoceros, will be involved in the breeding programme. The Leipzig Zoo says that it will call for optimum sustenance conditions of the animals and also train local workers at the breeding station.
The project will also help the protection of the rain forest with the involvement of the local population. Over and above, a local and international information and education programme will enable the people to understand the significance of the protection of the rhinoceros and with it the tropical forest.
In 2011, Leipzig Zoo will open Gondwana Land which will be a replica of the tropical forest. The the animal species living in it will be ambassadors of the tropical forests under threat.
The Sabah Rhino Conservation Project will present itself in the tropical hall of Gondwanaland to a million-strong public and thus make an important contribution to the protection of the Sabah rhino species. - Bernama
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