Endangered rhino makes comeback

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The Independent Online

An expedition to the remote jungles of northern Borneo has found a group of at least 13 Sumatran rhinos, a species teetering on the brink of extinction.

Scientists and officials believe that the rhinos are part of a small breeding population that has escaped the attention of poachers.

Rhino horn commands high prices on the black market - weight for weight it is worth almost as much as gold - because of its use in traditional Asian medicines.

The Sumatran rhinos were discovered last year in the state of Sabah, known as the "heart of Borneo", but their presence was kept a secret until the government could ensure their protection, according to the conservation body WWF.

"Poaching has decimated Borneo's once-healthy rhino population, but we were heartened to find that a few individuals have managed to survive," said Raymond Alfred of WWF-Malaysia. "Conservationists and government agencies are working hard to ensure this small population is protected and can grow."

The Sumatran rhino population on Borneo was thought to number between 30 and 70 individuals before this latest find and all of them lived in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Sumatran rhinos in the bigger states of Kalimantan and Sarawak have already gone extinct. All other Sumatran rhinos - thought to number about 300 in the wild - live on the island of Sumatra or the Asian mainland. These are a different sub-species to the Borneo rhinos.

Christy Williams, the head of WWF's Asian rhino programme, said that the rhinos were found after two weeks of trekking through the jungle.

The forest-dwelling rhinos eat seedlings and the leaves of young trees.

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