Sabah Rhino Research and Breeding

To establish a research and breeding centre for Sabah rhinos in Malaysia


The Sabah rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni) is a sub-species of the Sumatran rhino. This sub-species is critically endangered. About 30–50 individuals have survived in two sanctuaries in Sabah (Borneo), with a few animals still occurring in isolated patches of rainforest. This sub-species is under severe pressure as its habitat, the lowland rainforest, is being converted into oil palm plantations. The remaining individuals of the small population are dispersed and single individuals are isolated in small patches of rainforest.


The State Government of Sabah has set up a breeding centre in order to keep and breed Sabah rhinos that were caught in isolated forest patches. If breeding is successful, offspring may be released into the reserves. Methods of assisted reproduction will be applied if natural breeding is not successful in order to increase breeding success. The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin is a world-leading institute for these methods and has already examined two rhinos in Sabah in the end of 2009. Leipzig Zoo and the IZW have signed a MoU with the State Government of Sabah. Both institutions have worked out a Rhino Management Plan together with local partners involved in the Sabah Rhino Programme – the Sabah Wildlife Department, a local NGO "Borneo Rhino Alliance" and other partners.


The programme aims to:


  • establish numbers and distribution of Sabah rhinos in the wild;
  • catch and breed isolated individuals in the breeding centre;
  • train local keepers and learn more about the conditions how they can be kept and bred successfully;
  • adopt methods of assisted reproduction already used in zoos to wild living Sabah rhinos if natural breeding is not possible;
  • implement a reintroduction programme after successful breeding;
  • create awareness in Sabah and Europe for the Sabah rhino and the situation of the lowland rainforest;
  • start a reforestation project.


Measures for the next years include the veterinary and scientific assistance of the IZW, which is partly funded by Leipzig Zoo, training of local keepers and consultancy by Leipzig Zoo animal keepers, development of education and awareness methods, development of sustainable tourism, and consultancy of the Sabah Wildlife Department about international zoo standards.


Leipzig Zoo will present the conservations efforts for the Sabah rhino in the tropical hall Gondwanaland, which opened in 2011, and start fundraising.


WAZA Conservation Project 11019 is jointly implemented by the State Government of Sabah (Sabah Wildlife Department), Leipzig Zoo and Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research Berlin. Other stakeholders involved in the project include the Sime Darby Foundation and WWF Germany.


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