A motion-triggered camera trap set up in a remote jungle has captured the first-ever photo of a rhino in the wild on the island of Borneo, World Wildlife Fund and the Sabah Wildlife Department announced today.
The rhino is believed to be one of a population of as few as 13 whose existence was confirmed during a field survey last year in the interior forests of Sabah, Malaysia, an area known as the "Heart of Borneo." A handful of rhinos are thought to survive in addition to the 13, scattered across Sabah but isolated from each other.
"This is an encouraging sign for the future of rhinoceros conservation work in Sabah," said Mahedi Andau, Director of the Sabah Wildlife Department. "While the total number of Borneo rhinos remaining is uncertain, we do know there are very, very few. To capture a photo of one just a few months after placing camera traps in the area is extraordinary."
The rhinos in Sabah spend their lives in dense jungle where they are rarely seen, which accounts for the lack of any previous photographs of them in the wild.
Conservationists hope that the population of at least 13 found last year is viable and will be able to reproduce if protected from poaching. A full-time rhino monitoring team, funded by Honda Malaysia was established at the end of 2005 in Sabah to monitor the rhinos and their habitat, and keep poachers away. The team set up the camera traps in February. Camera traps are remotely activated by infrared triggers when animals walk by.
"These are very shy animals that are almost never seen alive in the wild," said Matthew Lewis, Program Officer for WWF's Species Conservation Program. "The photos we get from the camera traps will eventually give us a better idea of the population structure by allowing us to identify individual rhinos: males, females and hopefully calves."