Thankful Poachers Didn’t Get Puntung

Recognition for Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) field staff 

In her late teens when offered an office job by SOS Rhino Borneo, Rajimah Kasran was overjoyed, but within a month, was ready to call it quits. Although from a remote village in eastern Sabah, a Malaysian state in Borneo, Rajimah had never ventured into the forest – and was shocked to learn her “administrative post” required her to join team members in the tropical jungle at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, in the Lahad Datu district.

“I was told that I will work in an office, but I ended up going into the forest. I found it tough, and I wanted to go home. But when I started learning about the Sumatran rhinoceros, I hung on. For most part of the first year, each month I promised myself that I will bear it a little longer … I was starting to get used to the forest, and I wanted to know more about rhinos,” Rajimah said, recollecting her early years in rhino conservation work.

Months have turned into years – eight to be exact. Now 26, Rajimah is part of a team that works closely with the Sabah Wildlife Department to save the critically endangered Sumatran rhino – some estimates point at less than 30 in the wild in Borneo – with all known ranges in Sabah.

From having no awareness of the elusive mammal, Rajimah is now a valuable member of the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) team. BORA, which took over from the role played by SOS Rhino Borneo, is a non-governmental organization with a mission to prevent the extinction of Borneo’s rhino population. It assists the Sabah Wildlife Department in the development of the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary programme – an initiative of the Sabah State Government to increase rhino births through captive breeding.

On 27th January 2012, Rajimah was among 21 BORA field staff who received certificates of appreciation from the Chairman of the BORA Board, Dr Abdul Hamid Ahmad, for their critical work in helping capture wild female rhino Puntung and dedication over the last two years. BORA Executive Director Datuk Dr Junaidi Payne and Board member Ms Cynthia Ong joined Abdul Hamid in commending staff.

Rajimah receiving her certificate

BORA staff with their certificates of appreciation

“Back then, I didn’t even know what a rhino was. I was a coordinator for a homestay programme at my village in Dagat in the Segama area and suddenly I was involved in rhino work. I slowly started learning and today, my life revolves around rhinos. I hardly return home to my village although it is not very far away from Tabin simply because when I am home, I only think of rhinos in captivity, and those in the wild. My biggest fear is that poachers will get the remaining populations,” she said.

The species is today critically endangered following a combination over the past millennium of a loss of most of their prime habitat in Southeast Asia’s lowlands and chronic hunting for their horn, used in Chinese traditional medicine. Today, the species is threatened with extinction because their numbers are extremely low.

Rajimah, one of only two women doing field work under BORA, is enthusiastic about her work and feels honoured that the management team decided to present staff with certificates of appreciation.  “I feel very valued. Our greatest achievement so far is the capture of Puntung in December last year. I am so thankful that she didn’t fall into the hands of poachers,” Rajimah said.

Puntung is currently housed at an interim facility near the proposed Borneo Rhino Sanctuary at Tabin, along with Tam and Gelogob. Estimated to be 10 to 12 years old, Puntung is potentially a mate for Tam who was discovered when he walked out of the forest and into an oil palm estate in 2008.

Puntung - her first attempt into her enclosure

Interim facility

Interim facility

Gelogob in her wallow

To read more about the certificate of appreciation story, the following are news reports of the event:

Borneo Post

Borneo Post

Daily Express

Berita Harian

Berita Harian

New Sabah Times

New Straits Times

To learn more about BORA, visit



Wild female rhino Puntung was finally captured on 18th December 2011, after a wait of more than one and a half years. Puntung was found in an area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve where no signs of any male rhinos have been seen for several years, so it was unlikely she would be able to breed in the wild.

Estimated at about 10-12 years old, and lean and healthy, Puntung will hopefully be able to mate naturally with male rhino Tam who has been in captivity in Tabin since 2008.

This is a huge boost for the prospects of captive breeding of this Critically Endangered species and we wish the BORA team and the rhinos the best of luck in 2012!

Puntung in a temporary paddock where she was placed after capture, before being helicoptered to her new home in Tabin on Christmas Day! Photo: BORA/Abdul Hamid Ahmad

Puntung has no hooves on her front left foot, hence her name which means ‘stump’ in Malay. Examination of her foot revealed that the terminal bones of the leg were missing, a sure sign that the foot had been ripped off by a snare trap when she was an infant. Miraculously, she survived!

Male rhino Tam in his night stall prior to the arrival of Puntung, with BORA vet and Field Manager Dr Zainal Z. Zainuddin.

Described as a ‘Christmas miracle’ in the press, Puntung’s capture was reported across the world and made headlines in the local media, and has been hailed as a new and auspicious start to 2012 for rhino conservation.

In the New Sabah Times 25 December 2011

Daily Express 25 December 2011

Borneo Post 25 December 2011


In fact Sumatran rhinos have appeared quite a bit in the press in recent weeks. LEAP facilitated the publication of several articles written by Dr Junaidi Payne of BORA in the national and local press, in particular in relation to the recent disturbing announcement of the extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam, and its implications for Sumatran rhino conservation.

On the ground, the Rhino Quarantine Facility at Tabin has been completed and a temporary water supply connected. Solar power was installed at the end of November.

Photovoltaic cells on the roof of the Rhino Quarantine Facility

Elderly female rhino Gelogob was moved to the Rhino Quarantine Facility on 23rd August 2011 and seems to have settled in well. Tests carried out by Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), Berlin at the end of October confirmed that Gelogob is unfortunately unable to produce any eggs, and attempts to induce ovulation will cease.

Moving Gelogob to the Rhino Quarantine Facility

Gelogob in her new wallow

Work on the construction of the 1.24km road to the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary (BRS) facilities commenced in August but then lapsed again due to the return of wet weather. Funding from the federal government to build BRS is still not available and alternative funding is being sought from the Sabah government.

New gravel road leading to the proposed Borneo Rhino Sanctuary site

Happy Holidays!!

One Step Forward For Indigenous People in Land Tussle

Wearing black traditional outfits decked with colourful beads and brass belts, over 300 men, women and children gathered at the Kota Kinabalu Courts Complex on 24th November 2011 to listen to an argument appealing for the High Court to hear a land rights case.

A plea by the Tongod villagers "Dont take away our customary land"

The indigenous people, largely from the Kadazandusun group, arrived at a nearby city park at 7am, as a sign of solidarity for villagers in remote Tongod, a district in central Sabah.

Villager Darinsuk Pangiran Apan and four others are in a land tussle with private company Hap Seng Consolidated Berhad and four other parties – a matter that has dragged on all the way to Malaysia’s highest judiciary level – the Federal Court.

Cynthia Ong lending support to one of the villagers claiming native customary rights over land. Pictured here with Darinsuk Pangiran Apan.

Just before 9am, villagers marched silently to the High Court building, not bothered by curious looks from passers-by, minutes before the Federal Court sat to listen to their appeal.

Those who were unable to find a seat in the building watched a video of the proceedings – streamed live from a laptop to a large mobile screen.

Watching the deliberation from a live feed outside the court room.

Six hours later, the Federal Court allowed the appeal and remitted the case to the High Court. The nation’s highest court also ruled that the High Court should not have dismissed the villagers’ claim based on preliminary objection, and that the order of the High Court as affirmed by the Court of Appeal should be set aside.

The fight is not over.

Although the legal battle is still on, the Federal Court’s decision is viewed as a positive step in the need to continuously advocate the rights of indigenous people over land – a thorny issue in Sabah, and in many other places around the world.

More photos on our Facebook page.

Engaging All Quarters Crucial in Resolving Land Issues: LEAP

As part of an assessment of a local land rights programme, two independent evaluators met the Sabah Lands and Surveys Department to gather information on related issues, in particular claims for native customary rights (NCR).

The recent meeting saw Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) Executive Director Cynthia Ong and independent consultant Birgitte Feiring of Denmark, getting feedback from Department Director Datuk Osman Jamal and his Deputy (Land) Lee Chun Khiong on land ownership among natives, including the state’s current focus in issuing Communal Titles.

Ong and Feiring sought the meeting to get the Government’s perspective on land claims, a subject that remains controversial as individuals, communities and private entities continue to apply for land ownership.

“We visited several remote villages in Tenom, Keningau, Tongod and Ranau last week, and one of the main grouses raised by communities was their right to land ownership.

“To make a fair assessment of the situation, we followed up by speaking to lawyers, the media and to Government departments. We are glad that the Lands and Surveys Department was open to answering some of our queries,” she said in a statement issued today by LEAP.

Ong and Feiring spent 10 days until Oct 26 evaluating local NGO Partners of Community Organisations (PACOS) Trust’s Land Rights and Natural Resource Management programme.

The evaluation will provide the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) and the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) with an assessment on the impacts, results and effectiveness of activities carried out under the said programme.

Ong said it is important to continue engaging with all quarters in finding solutions to complicated issues, such as land ownership. She said some situations may require solutions that are based on unique characteristics of a certain area or community.

(From left) Independent consultant Birgitte Feiring and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) Executive Director Cynthia Ong in a discussion with Sabah Lands and Surveys Department Director Datuk Osman Jamal and his Deputy (Land) Lee Chun Khiong.
Independent consultant Birgitte Feiring (left) and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) Executive Director Cynthia Ong getting answers from Sabah Lands and Surveys Department Director Datuk Osman Jamal (right) on the issuance of titles to natives.


In a related development, LEAP Executive Director Cynthia Ong and independent consultant Birgitte Feiring of Denmark took part in media dialogue with representatives from several local Sabah newspapers. The following is an article that appeared in the Daily Express, as a result of the Press meet.

Indigenous people and contemporary crises

Newspaper article written by our staff member June Rubis.

Indigenous people and contemporary crises - looking for solution. Daily Express 14th Nov 2011

Rosli takes a turn for the better

A story on MESCOT/KOPEL’s Rosli Jukrana in national newspaper The Star.  


KOTA KINABALU: Leading seven community-based conservation and eco-tourism projects, Rosli Jukrana has come a long way from the days he used to illegally fell timber.

As the executive manager of Koperasi Pelancongan Mukim Batu Putih (Kopel) Berhad, Rosli is today busy overseeing lake and forest restoration projects and running an eco-camp and homestays at four villages in the Lower Kinabatangan region, on Sabah’s east coast.

Kopel Berhad runs the Model Ecologically Sustainable Community Conservation and Tourism (Mescot) project that is working to restore a lowland rainforest and has successfully constructed a zero waste and near-zero emissions eco camp, in addition to award winning homestay, cultural and wildlife tourism programmes.

Honoured: Zainie presenting the award to Rosli (right). Looking on is Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu president Lawrence Thien (left).


Recently, the Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu presented Rosli an award in recognition of his leadership which now sees him extending knowledge and experience in conservation and sustainable tourism to other communities in the state.

Rotary International District Governor Zainie Abdul Aucasa presented RM1,000, a plaque and a certificate to Rosli, 43, at a dinner where Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu president Lawrence Thien.

Rosli who was accompanied by wife Maria Isa and daughter Siti Dzulaika, said he was humbled by the club’s decision to present him with the award and viewed it as an honour for Mescot andKopel.

“I dedicate this award to the Mescot team and Kopel co-operative members who have shown strong support for conservation and tourism projects in Batu Putih for the last 14 years.

“This award is recognition of the hard work that everyone has put in making both Mescot and Kopel a success. I dedicate this award to the four villages in the Batu Putih area and I am confident that this will motivate us to do work harder in conservation efforts and develop sustainable eco-tourism as a source of income,” he said.

Rosli said there was a time when he was forced to fell timber illegally as that was the only source of income in order for him to support his family.

“Things have changed for us with the introduction of conservation and eco-tourism products which now allow me and fellow villagers to earn a sustainable income,” the father of four said.

Going green: Rosli conducting a survey for a forest restoration project in the Kinabatangan area of Sabah’s east coast.

Rising through the ranks to become executive manager, Rosli is central to the development of Kopel as one of the top 17 co-operatives in Malaysia, and the only one in Sabah.

Reacting to the award, Malaysia Co-operative Commission Sabah director Saiful Bahri Omar said he was pleased that the Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu had recognised the leader of a community based co-operative.

“We are very happy to learn of this award. Kopel continues to adhere to rules and regulations, and has become a model for other co-operatives in the nation.

“Co-operatives increase the socio-economic status of members who get income via homestays and other services,” Saiful said, adding that there were 803 co-operatives in Sabah.

Meanwhile, Land Empowerment Animals People (Leap) which has partnered with the community since 2005, described Rosli as a dedicated and committed leader.

Leap executive director Cynthia Ong said Rosli and his team report illegal logging to the Sabah Forestry Department, and that the area has seen a decline in such activities due to presence of a community that truly cares about conservation.

“Collectively, Mescot programmes have turned the tide of ecologically destructive practices and economic disempowerment among villagers, and put them on a track of both ecological and economic self-sufficiency, paving the way for other rural communities in Sabah and the region,” Ong said.