Desperately seeking Indonesian’s help to save rhinos

A file picture of Tam enjoying his moment in a wallow in the forest at Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah.

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s only hope to save its critically endangered Sumatran Rhinos is to have the planned in vitro fertilization (IVF) programme to proceed as soon as possible, or start finding alternative methods.

Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) executive director Datuk Dr John Payne, who is among those trying to get help from the Indonesian government for this purpose, said he and a team of researchers will not stop asking Indonesia for help until they succeed.

However, according to a Mongabay online report, the Indonesian government has decided to put off the plan due to technical reasons among others.

Bearing in mind that Sabah’s last two rhinos – Iman (female) in her 20s, and Tam (male) in his 30s – could be dead before help actually arrives, Dr Payne said they have no choice but to keep pushing for it.

“We have been trying since the 80s but decisions always change, and it is sad that the Indonesian government said the planned IVF of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino will be put off,” he said when contacted.

“These rhinos are at the brink of extinction and if we really care about this species, we must put whatever differences aside and just think of the Sumatran Rhinos’ future above all else,” he said.

“We will continue and persistently try to get Indonesia to work together for this purpose, we can only hope that the person in charge of this at the moment can understand how crucial the matter is,” Dr Payne said.

He said the current head of biodiversity in Indonesia was a woman veterinarian and he prays she would take a more intelligent approach in this matter and help save the dying species.

If all else fails and Sabah’s two remaining rhinos die, he said the next thing possible was to use preserved living genomes as cell cultures and as frozen gametes in the hope that future developments in cell biology can make use of those to make embryos.

“We can also go for cloning but of course there are ethical matters involved and I am not sure if we are ready to go as far as this,” Dr. Payne said.

The Mongabay report also said that among the reasons the Indonesian government has decided to put the plan on hold was because Iman could not produce viable eggs.

“But we have been trying to get sperm from the Indonesia rhinos for so long and there has always been some sort of ‘reasoning’ for it,” Dr Payne said.

Iman and Tam are not able to mate as Iman is still recuperating from uterus cancer and Iman’s sperm is of poor quality due to old age.

The animals are already considered extinct in the wild in Sabah, whereas there is an estimated less than 100 of them left in Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Christina Liew said the state will not give up and would continue asking Indonesia for assistance while sourcing for alternative methods.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the department was also working closely with Bora and other agencies to prevent Sabah’s two remaining rhinos in captivity from going extinct.

“Our team has monitored the grounds with the hope of spotting any new or live rhinos in the wild, but there is none,” he said.

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