Camera traps have caught a glimpse of the elusive Sumatran rhino in the last place conservation experts expected to look: the jungles of East Kalimantan, the World Wildlife Fund-Indonesia announced on Wednesday.
“The team is delighted to have secured the first known visual evidence of the Sumatran rhino in Kalimantan,” the organization said in a press release.
The Borneo subspecies of the Sumatran rhino was thought to be extinct in Indonesia. About 25 of the critically endangered rhinos may remain in Malaysia’s Sabah state, according to WWF-Indonesia.
Conservation experts first stumbled on footprints that looked suspiciously like rhino tracks during a trek through the jungle to monitor orangutans in East Kalimantan. WWF-Indonesia and district officials then set up sixteen camera traps in the West Kutai district and waited.
It took three months, but in late June officials caught first sight of the two-horned rhino. A similar rhino appeared on camera on two other occasions — on June 30 and Aug. 3, WWF-Indonesia said. The animal was seen wallowing in the mud and wandering through the shots in search of food.
It is unknown if the footage is of one rhino or two, WWF-Indonesia said.
"This physical evidence is very important, as it forms the basis to develop and implement more comprehensive conservation efforts for the Indonesian rhinoceros," Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said in his opening speech at the Asian Rhino Range States Ministerial Meeting, in Bandar Lampung, Sumatra, on Wednesday.
"This finding represents the hard work of many parties, and will hopefully contribute to achieving Indonesia's target of 3 percent annual rhino population growth," he said.
Government officials and nongovernmental organizations gathered in Bandar Lampung for an international meeting on rhino conservation. Representatives from Indonesia, Bhutan, India, Malaysia and Nepal were in attendance.
WWF-Indonesia conservation director Nazir Foead pushed for greater conservation efforts of the Indonesian rhino.
"WWF calls on all parties, in Indonesia and around the world, to immediately join the efforts to conserve the Indonesian rhinoceros," Nazir said.
There are fewer than 300 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild after decades of poaching and deforestation decimated their numbers.