Until recently the Sumatran rhino was thought to be extinct in Kalimantan, the Indonesian territory that makes up 73 per cent of the large island of Borneo. However, since traces of this critically endangered mammal were found there in 2013, hidden cameras have confirmed that 15 Sumatran rhinos were living in two small pockets of habitat. And in 2016, a live female was captured and transferred to a protected enclosure (although she subsequently died, apparently from the wound caused by a poacher’s snare). Removing wild creatures from their habitats might seem the wrong thing to do. But in the case of creatures like rhinos that are so vulnerable to poaching and human impacts on their habitats, conservationists see this as the best way to protect and save the species.
To create a home for Kalimantan’s endangered rhinos, Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment & Forestry is creating a 200-hectare rhino sanctuary on a rehabilitated mine site managed by PT Kelian Equatorial Mining (KEM), a Rio Tinto subsidiary (see sidebar).
It is hoped that the sanctuary, situated within the 4,561-hectare Kelian Protected Forest, will be officially designated a wildlife reserve and provide a safe haven for Kalimantan’s small and struggling Sumatran rhino population.
Experience with other rhino species shows that when populations are actively managed and protected, their decline can be reversed. All of the rhino species have been threatened with extinction, with the white rhino population down to below 100 animals in the 20th century and the black rhino reduced to just a few thousand animals in the 1990s. Today, although it is still threatened, the white rhino has bounced back thanks to conservation efforts, and black rhino populations are slowly increasing too.
Their new habitat at Kelian could provide the lifeline that Kalimantan’s remaining Sumatran rhinos need to begin their recovery.