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Puntung, the Sumatran rhino, is dying


KOTA KINABALU: All hope of saving Puntung – one of the remaining three Sumatran rhinos in Sabah – is gone after veterinarians confirmed that she is dying of squamous cell cancer.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said Puntung had earlier undergone dental surgery, which was believed could save her and her species.

However, euthanasia is now being considered.

“We thought that we had saved her from her life-threatening dental infection a few months ago.

“But now, it turns out that that the swelling on Puntung’s left cheek that alerted us to the infected tooth root had a more serious origin,” he said when contacted.

He said the swelling on Puntung’s cheek had progressed after her surgery and two subsequent biopsies revealed she has squamous cell carcinoma.

Tuuga said the cancer has been spreading rapidly over the past few weeks and specialists from several countries agree that it would be fatal – with or without treatment.

“As of today, Puntung can no longer breathe through her left nostril. She can no longer vocalise, she is in pain and her condition is declining fast.

“Other than administering painkillers, there is nothing more anyone can do,” he said.

Veterinarians and other specialists are now making preparations to perform Oocyte retrieval (the process of collecting mature eggs directly from a female’s ovaries, prior to their release from ovarian follicles) on Puntung. 

If the procedure is succesful, Puntung may be able to contribute to the survival of her species.

Sabah’s Sumatran rhino population has dwindled to just three specimens in captivity, with the animal considered extinct in the wild.

Puntung , rhino , Sabah

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