KOTA KINABALU: Puntung, one of the last three Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia, is reportedly critically ill with an abscess deep on her upper jaw, which has not responded to drainage and antibiotic treatment.
Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said there is grave concern over Puntung’s health because there are signs that the infection is deep and likely to have spread even deeper.
“We are worried about sepsis, an infection that can spread quickly through the body and rapidly cause death,” he said.
“We estimate that Puntung is around 25 years old. 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,” said Datuk John Payne, the Borneo Rhino Alliance executive director.
“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,” he said.
Sabah is home to only three out of last few tens of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino, the last all being in Indonesia. All three Malaysian rhinos are cared for at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu by Borneo Rhino Alliance, a non-governmental organization contracted by the Sabah Wildlife Department.
Puntung was captured in 2011, and it was subsequently found that she was the last remaining wild rhino in the Reserve.
The idea was to allow her to contribute towards preventing the species extinction by mating her with a male rhino, Tam, in 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 fertilization, the merging of a sperm and egg in the laboratory.
This has been done by Professor Thomas Hildebrandt and his team of specialists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, Professor Cesare Galli of Avantea laboratories in Italy, and Professor Arief Boediono of Institut Pertanian Bogor.
If successful, the embryos could then be offered to Indonesia for implantation into surrogate mother rhinos of the same species in Sumatra.