KOTA KINABALU – One of the last three Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia, Puntung, is critically ill with an abscess deep inside her upper jaw, which has not responded to drainage and antibiotic treatment.
Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director, Augustine Tuuga said there was grave concern as there were signs that the infection was deep and had likely spread even deeper.
“We are worried about sepsis, an infection that can spread quickly through the body and rapidly causing death,” he said in a statement, here, today.
Sabah is home to only three out of the last few tens of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino, the last all being in Indonesia.
Borneo Rhino Alliance, a non-governmental organisation contracted by SWD, cares for all three Sumatran rhinos at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu.
Puntung was captured in 2011 and it was subsequently found that she was the last remaining wild rhino in the reserve and the idea was to allow her to contribute towards preventing the species from becoming extinct by mating her with a male, Tam, in a managed, fenced facility.
It was then found that Puntung had a severe array of cysts lining her uterus, which were resistant to treatment, making her unable to bear a pregnancy.
Since 2014, with the capture of one more female rhino in Sabah, efforts have been directed towards trying to make rhino embryos through in vitro fertilisation, the merging of a sperm and egg in the laboratory.
Meanwhile, Borneo Rhino Alliance executive director Datuk John Payne said loss of Puntung now would be a tragedy, because she potentially has quite a few years of egg production left.
“We estimate that Puntung is around 25 years old. Sumatran rhinos have a life expectancy of around 35 years,” he said, adding that veterinarian Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin had been caring for Puntung since the day of her capture and he was doing everything possible to treat Puntung. – BERNAMA