A British biologist hiking in a remote area of Borneo he described as "like a lost valley of Shangri-La" came upon a herd of rare, woolly rhinoceros.
The herd of at least five animals appeared to be healthy and breeding, said Julian Caldecott, a 30-year-old British biologist who hiked for four days into the remote valley in August after hearing reports of the rhinos' existence from native Malaysians.
"I was very excited because this is a chance to save a species that seemed doomed," Caldecott said in an interview in New York.
The 250-square-mile valley is in an undisclosed region of Borneo. It is surrounded by high mountains and filled with lush vegetation, monkeys and birds, he said.
It is believed that only 150 Sumatran two-horned--or woolly--rhinos survive in Southeast Asia, where they roamed in the thousands before the turn of the century.
"They exist in ones and twos here and there, but they are one of the most endangered species still in existence," Caldecott said. "This is a real herd that is breeding. It gives us hope this species may be saved."
He said the animals are so shy that he could not even catch a glimpse of them through the lush foliage. He said he discovered the herd by studying their distinctive, three-toed tracks and other biological evidence.
"There are at least five and I believe there may be as many as a dozen," he said. "I know they are breeding because I found baby tracks."
Caldecott, who works for Earthlife Foundation, a London-based environmental group, said the Malaysian government is proposing a national park to protect the lost valley, the location of which remains a secret.