May 29, 2019

The end of an era looms for Sumatran rhinos after Malaysia’s last male species died last Monday. According to The Straits Times, Tam, the male rhino, passed away due to kidney and liver complications, a condition that he has had for some time. Meanwhile, Iman, a 25-year-old female captive, is the last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, making the critically endangered species drawing nearer to extinction.

Sumatran rhinos are the smallest of the living rhinoceroses, standing at around 4 feet and 3 inches. Similar to other rhinos, Sumatran rhinos can live up to 40 years old. At some point, these rhinos roamed as far as Eastern India, Eastern Himalayas, and even to China and Vietnam.

Tam is believed to be a little over 30 years old. According to Save the Rhino International, Tam was approximately 20 years old when he was captured in 2008. He was transferred to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Malaysia, where multiple efforts were made to mate him with the last two female Sumatran rhinos (Iman included) in the region but to no avail. The other female Sumatran rhino named Puntung passed away in 2017 due to cancer.

The National Geographic reported that because of habitat loss and poaching, “fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos are thought to exist in the wild.” Other Sumatran rhinos are said to be scattered in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo.

“Sumatran rhinos have really suffered from the fragmentation of their habitat,” said CEO Cathy Dean of Save the Rhino to BBC News, “With logging, with roads for development, the patches of forest available are shrinking. Frankly, it’s hard for them to find each other to mate and breed successfully.”

But all hope is not lost for the endangered species. According to New Strait Times, the survival of Sumatran rhinos may be contingent on a joint breeding program between Malaysia and Indonesia. Iman, who is kept at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary, can still produce eggs.

“Experts from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Germany will assist in the egg harvesting which can be fertilized in the laboratory through in vitro fertilization with sperm from the Indonesian male rhino,” Deputy Chief Minister of Sabah Christina Liew said in the same report. “The embryo produced from this process can then be implanted to a surrogate Indonesian female rhinoceros.”

We’re all at the edge of our seats here as we await the governments’ next steps. But more than anything, the death of Tam should be a reminder that we should start being critical of governments and corporations who have questionable ordinances and projects that affect nature and wildlife. Unless we do something about it, this won’t be the last we hear of extinction.


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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TAGS: Indonesia malaysia nolisoliph rhinos sumatran rhino wildlife