(Above) Sumatran Rhinoceros. Illustration based on a captive individual in the London Zoo in 1872.  (Below)  Sumatran Rhinoceros illustrated by Karen Phillipps

Rhinoceros Borneo

Until a few thousand years ago Borneo hosted at least 3 species of rhinoceros. The first rhino to become extinct was the Indian Rhinoceros (bottom) followed by the Javan Rhinoceros (middle). The Sumatran Rhinoceros (top) is currently on the verge of extinction in Borneo with only one captive individual (Iman) left in Sabah.

The preferred  diet of the  3 species of rhinoceros  that used to occur in Borneo is well known. The Indian Rhino is  a”grazer” which feeds mainly on grass but also eats woody fruit and leaves. The Javan and Sumatran Rhinos are “browsers” that feed on shrubs and leaves but also eat fruit.

However the most detailed information on the diet of the Sumatran Rhino has been collected by Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin  the vet who is charge of the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) compound at Tabin in Sabah.

The BORA compound currently  (May 2018) houses two female Sumatran Rhinos, Putung and Iman. These two rhinos are allowed to roam free in a large shady paddock but are given supplementary food twice a day including horse pellets, local fruit  and a wide variety of leaves from over 100 species of  secondary forest shrubs and climbers that grow wild at Tabin. In addition BORA has established a rhino orchard to grow the rhino’s most preferred food plants.

The Rhino orchard is next to the BORA site at Tabin in Sabah
The Rhino orchard at Tabin is protected by a powerful electric fence ( on the right) to deter elephants from raiding the orchard. Elephants like eating young fig plants.
Although rhinos are generalist feeders on secondary forest shrubs  with a preference for  figs and artocarpus (Jakfruit)  leaves, at BORA they are very choosy about what they eat.  For example, according to Dr Zainal;
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Rhinos love eating Ficus lepicarpa  a common fig along the roadside at Tabin.
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BUT the BORA rhinos refuse to eat the leaves of Ficus septica another  common secondary forest fig at Tabin.  Rhinos are effective seed dispersers of Ficus lepicarpa but not of Ficus septica. This indicates a very different ecology for two  very similar figs that grow in the same locations.

See the articles below for the reason that Sumatran Rhinos might not like to eat Ficus septica leaves  and for more information on rhinos and fig dispersal,

Ficus septica: Beware corrosive sap

Ficus trichocarpa and the Tabin rhinos

Ficus aurata and rhino dispersal

Fig Ecology: Javan Rhinoceros


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The BORA compound at Tabin is not currently open to the public !