One of last three remaining Sumatran Rhinos in Sabah 'critically ill'

OLIVIA MIWIL

KOTA KINABALU: One of the last remaining Sumatran Rhinos in Malaysia is critically ill.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the rhinoceros, named Puntung, has an abscess inside her upper jaw and not responding to antibiotic treatment.

“It is a grave concern because there are signs that the infection is deep and likely has spread even deeper.

"We are worried about sepsis, an infection complication that can spread quickly through the body and rapidly cause death," he said in a statement, adding that Puntung had been sick since last week.

Sabah is home to only three out of the last few critically-endangered Sumatran rhino. The remaining numbers are in Indonesia.

Puntung, another female rhino Iman and male Kertam are being cared by a non-governmental organisation, Borneo Rhino Alliance, at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu.

Puntung was captured in 2011. It was subsequently established that she was the last remaining wild rhino in the Reserve.

The department had tried to mate Puntung and Kertam in a managed and fenced facility. However, it was later found that Puntung’s uterus was lined with a severe array of cysts which was untreatable.

Since 2014, with the capture of Iman from Danum valley, efforts have been directed towards trying to create rhino embryos through in-vitro fertilisation.

If successful, the fertilised embryos will be inserted into surrogate mother rhinos of the same species in Sumatra.

Borneo Rhino Alliance executive director Datuk John Payne said the life expectancy of the species could reach up to 35 years.

"We estimate that Puntung is around 25 years old. Her loss would be a tragedy because she potentially has quite a few years of egg production left."