With the death of Tam, the last Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia, another nail is stuck in the coffin of this species. Now, there is only one Sumatran rhino named Iman in the country, ending efforts to produce offspring.
Tam fell ill at the end of April, losing his appetite and energy. On Monday, May 27, the 30-year-old rhino died at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, which had been his home since it was picked up in 2008.
“Today, we say goodbye to Tam, our last male Sumatran rhinoceros,” WWF Malaysia wrote on Facebook. “Our hearts are full of sadness when we mourn not only the loss of wildlife, but also the loss of a species.”
The cause of death is not yet known, but preliminary evidence suggests that the kidneys, and perhaps also the liver, had begun to fail. It may simply be due to age, since the life expectancy of Sumatran rhinos is 35 to 40 years.
The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), in critical danger of extinction, was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015, but while Tam remained alive, so did a small thread of hope.
Unfortunately, efforts to make the species reproduce using in vitro fertilization with the two captive females of their species, Puntung and Iman, produced no offspring. Puntung was sacrificed in 2017 after contracting an incurable cancer, so in Malaysia, Iman is now the last of its kind.
In the rest of the world the situation is not much better. Less than 80 individuals dispersed on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra remain free. The numbers continue to decline, habitat loss and ongoing poaching have brought the species to the brink of extinction.
This situation is not likely to improve much by itself. The remaining populations are small and isolated from each other. These rhinos are usually solitary animals, unless they mate or raise their young, which makes finding a viable mate even more difficult. To which fertility is an added problem. Unless they get pregnant regularly, female Sumatran rhinos develop uterine problems, such as cysts, that make them sterile. This, combined with Tam’s poor quality sperm, is the reason why attempts to fertilize Iman and Puntung were unsuccessful.
The loss of Tam underlines the urgency of finding the remaining Sumatran rhinos in the wild areas of Kalimantan and Sumatra and taking them to sanctuaries where they can protect themselves, along with an intense effort to produce offspring.
Apart from science reporting I also occasionally cover celebrity/entertainment news.
2485 Prudence Street, Farmington Hills MI 48335