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KOTA KINABALU, MAY 29 — The death of Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhinoceros, Kertam, or Tam, is a reminder that conservation efforts need to be stepped up for other species facing extinction, Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) Governing Council Member Caroline Christine Russell said.
Russell, in a statement here, said the near extinction of the Sumatran rhino was a wake-up call that that there are many other species that were also on the brink of extinction and needed attention.
“It is now more urgent than ever to make species conservation front and centre of the national agenda, and to concentrate resources towards saving species like the Malayan elephant, Sunda clouded leopard, Bornean banteng, proboscis monkey, and other threatened species,” she said, adding that the foundation was currently supporting conservation efforts of these species.
“The Malayan tiger faces an extremely high chance of extinction in the wild, and we should focus all efforts towards saving the species before it is too late,” she added.
Sime Darby Foundation had contributed to the conservation of Sumatran rhinos for close to a decade and Russell said the loss of Tam was deeply felt by the Foundation.
“YSD had worked with the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) and the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) to save the Sumatran rhinoceros in Sabah from 2009 to February 2017, with a total allocation of RM15.7 million,” she said.
The funds were channelled towards the care and facilities provided for the welfare of the precious animals. Funding was also channeled towards the breeding programme, which included artificial reproductive technology (ART) to help breed the Sumatran rhinoceros.
YSD’s funding to the programme ceased when the Federal Government announced an allocation of RM11.9 million towards the breeding programme.
“I first met Tam in 2009, together with the blind female Sumatran rhinoceros Gelugob, when YSD had first committed to support conservation efforts to save the species from extinction. We were also involved in the rescue and relocation of two females, Puntung and Iman, to the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve.
“We were so committed towards the welfare and care of all four Sumatran rhinos, while the breeding programme was being conducted. We felt such a close connection to all of them, so much so that losing any one of them is like losing a very dear friend,” said Russell.
“The conservation of the Sumatran rhinoceros was a cause close to our hearts, and we only took a step back when the federal government stepped in with funds to conserve the species. However, we have never stopped monitoring the situation.
“It was a race against time to save the species that was in the twilight of existence and we spared no effort to continuously look for ways to save the species. There were many setbacks along the way, but we had harboured hope that the efforts to collect oocytes from the rhinos, and an effective collaboration with Indonesia would make a difference in the species’ conservation,” she added.
Russell said international experts were also dedicated to the cause, with several experts from Europe and the United States periodically flying in to Sabah, some with YSD support.
Many of these global experts and stakeholders converged at the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit in Singapore in 2013 to review existing conservation strategies, identify key actions and develop a new global conservation plan to prevent the species’ extinction.
“The emotions of those in attendance during the summit were palpable as they knew that the situation was at a critical juncture and that they may lose the battle to save the species if effective actions were not taken early enough, and more challenges emerged. However, they carried on and worked tirelessly to draw up plans and strategies towards the conservation of the species,” she said.
“We would like to thank all of them for their tireless commitment towards trying to save the species. We would especially like to thank Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) team, headed by Executive Director Dr John Payne, as well as BORA veterinarian Dr Zainal Zainuddin who has been ardently caring for Tam and the other rhinos in the sanctuary,” she added.
Currently, the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary is caring for Malaysia’s last remaining Sumatran rhino — Iman.
Since 2009, YSD has committed RM140.2 million towards the protection of high conservation value ecosystems, vulnerable and endangered species as well as initiatives promoting the preservation of the environment and biodiversity.