Malaysia may lose one of its three last Sumatran rhinos

Puntung was captured in 2011 and is now being kept at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu with one other female and a male Sumatran rhino. — Picture via Borneo Rhino Sanctuary
Puntung was captured in 2011 and is now being kept at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu with one other female and a male Sumatran rhino. — Picture via Borneo Rhino Sanctuary

KUALA LUMPUR, April 6 — One of Malaysia’s last three Sumatran rhinoceroses is in grave danger due to an abscess in her jaw.

The infection appears to be spreading deeper for Puntung, a female believed to be about 25 years old and still capable of reproducing, and she has not responded to drainage or antibiotic treatment, The Borneo Post reported today.

“We are worried about sepsis, an infection that can spread quickly through the body and rapidly cause death,” Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director Augustine Tuuga was quoted saying.

Puntung was captured in 2011 and is now being kept at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu with one other female and a male Sumatran rhino. The sanctuary is managed by the non-governmental Borneo Rhino Alliance contracted by the SWD.

“Sumatran rhinos have a life expectancy of around 35 years. Loss of Puntung now would be a tragedy, because she potentially has quite a few years of egg production left.

“Veterinarian Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin has been caring for Puntung since the day of her capture and he is doing all that are possible to treat Puntung,” Borneo Rhino Alliance executive director Datuk John Payne was quoted saying in the same report.

The sanctuary had planned to mate her with another captured male rhino Tam in a managed facility, but then found she had cysts in her uterus that made her unable to bear a pregnancy.

However, the sanctuary was reported to be working on in vitro fertilisation to breed more rhinos and keep the species from becoming extinct altogether.

Malaysia’s Sumatran rhinos no longer exist in the wild. The remainder of the critically endangered species, numbering in the tens, is in neighbouring Indonesia.