KUALA LUMPUR, June 4 — Malaysia is now left with only two Sumatran rhinoceroses after the third, named Puntung, was euthanised early this morning to end her suffering from skin cancer.
Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director Augustine Tuuga said the decision to put the 25-year-old female rhinoceros to permanent sleep was brought forward from June 15 as the cancer caused her severe breathing problems as well as bleeding from her nostril.
“The carcinoma had been growing rapidly in size and there were clear signs that Puntung was experiencing significant breathing difficulties.
“In consultation with our rhino reproduction advisers at Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, and others, the decision was taken to end her growing discomfort, and bring forward the planned date of the procedure,” he said in a statement today.
In her last week, she was accompanied day and night by her keepers in her forest paddock.
She was euthanised at 4am.
Tuuga also said that Puntung’s ovaries and reproductive cells have been harvested to ensure the continuity of the critically endangered species.
“Tissue samples from Puntung are being provided to Malaysian institutions so that her genome can be preserved through cell cultures,” he added.
Puntung was first captured in the wild in 2011 and kept at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu, with one other female and a male Sumatran rhino named Tam.
The sanctuary, managed by the non-governmental organisation Borneo Rhino Alliance contracted by the SWD, had previously planned to mate Puntung with Tam in a managed facility until it discovered cysts in her uterus that made her unable to bear a pregnancy.
Puntunf had suffered from an abscess in her cheek that would not heal despite treatment since mid-March and underwent an operation to remove two molars and one premolar in her upper left jaw last month in an attempt to heal the abscess
Malaysia no longer has any wild rhinoceroses. The remainder of the critically endangered species, numbering in the tens, is in neighbouring Indonesia.