Rhino among factors for ‘no’ to coal-fired plant

Kota Kinabalu: The continued survival of the endangered Sumatran rhino is one of the main reasons the State Government shot down the proposed coal-fired power plant in Silam, Lahad Datu.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun, who disclosed this, said it was not an easy decision considering that Sabah is currently facing a power shortage problem.

“But finally, we thought, we can have a power plant built anywhere but we cannot have a rhino anywhere,” he said, assuring that the State Government will continue to preserve all wildlife in Sabah.

“In the recently-launched Sabah Development Corridor (SDC) 2008-2025, the rhino rescue programme was high on the State agenda,” he said.

He also directed the department to spearhead a State-level rhino conservation task force to develop an action plan and embark on a rhino breeding programme based on the sanctuary concept similar to Indonesia’s.

“We are now determining the funding required,” he said at a ceremony to honour SOS Rhino USA and its President Dr Nan Schaffer for their contributions to rhinoceros conservation in Sabah over the past eight years at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, here, Tuesday.

Other than Dr Schaffer and her team, also present were Sabah Tourism Board (STB) Chairman Tengku Datuk Dr Zainal Adlin and State Wildlife Director Laurentius Ambu.

“There is no doubt that the Sumatran rhino is the most endangered species in Sabah and their numbers have dwindled to a mere 25-30,” said Masidi.

Population surveys by the Wildlife Department and other stakeholders indicated that breeding populations exist only in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Danum Valley and, more recently, in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

With such a small and fragmented population coupled with a low reproductive rate, the viability of the species is of grave concern.

Conservation efforts of the Wildlife Department have, therefore, focused on in-situ conservation involving protection and management of breeding rhino populations within sustainable natural habitats, and ex-situ conservation, attempting to bring isolated rhinos in unsustainable habitats into captive breeding programmes to build up a captive population with the long-term objective of eventual release to the wild.

Masidi said it is heartening that non-governmental organisations have lately begun to play an active role in the conservation of rhinos in Sabah.

“Public awareness, fund raising and participating in conservation programmes are some of the contributions that NGOs can undertake. We welcome and encourage contributions from NGOs and regard them as partners with similar objectives such as conserving biodiversity and maintaining sustainable the livelihoods of local communities,” he said.

Therefore, as partners, NGOs have to keep the faith and ensure that their participation would not be to the detriment of the other party.

“It is all too easy to pick on issues and sensationalise them to gain mileage for whatever cause but such a course is counter-productive and self-destructive,” he said.

Towards this end, Masidi was happy that SOS Rhino has fared well by avoiding conservation politics and focussing their energy on the plight of the Sumatran rhino.

“With your collaboration for the last 10 years or so, there is more knowledge now on Sumatran rhino conservation in Sabah in terms of the rhino situation and the important prerequisites in captive breeding of the Sumatran rhino,” he said.

The successful production of one rhino offspring in Cincinnati Zoo in 2001 was the result of the rhino captive breeding experiences gained in Sabah, he added, extending the State Government’s gratitude to Dr Schaffer and SOS Rhino USA for the invaluable contributions on Sumatran rhino conservation in Sabah.

Sumber: Daily Express, Malaysia

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