Scientists keep skin cells hoping to clone Sumatran rhinos in future

  • Nation
  • Monday, 10 Apr 2017

Tam is estimated to be 23 years old, considered rather middle-age for a Sumatran rhino and thus his sperm would be imperative towards the continuity of his species.

KOTA KINABALU: Scientists are keeping the skin cells of Sabah’s three remaining Sumatran rhinos in the hope of using future tech­nology to breed the threatened species.

Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) executive director Datuk John Payne said Sumatran rhinos in Sabah are considered extinct in the wild and with only three left in captivity, Sabah alone is not able to save them.

He added that advanced techno­logy would be able to use the skin cells and turn them into eggs or sperms, before they are transformed into induced pluripotent stem cells for the creation of an entire animal eventually.

“Prevention of extinction can only happen if all authorities with Sumatran rhinos under their jurisdiction are willing to collaborate on a programme to boost birth rate.

“That means Malaysia – which is ready at Sabah and national levels – along with Indonesia at central level plus Aceh and East Kalimantan provinces must work together,” he said.

All three rhinos in captivity – a male called Tam and two female, Puntung and Iman – are being cared for by Bora at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in the east coast of Lahad Datu district.

Wildlife experts’ attempts to get Puntung and Iman to mate with Tam were unsuccessful as the female rhinos have cysts lining their uteruses.

The cysts are resistant to treatment.

Puntung is also suffering from a life-threatening infection.

Payne suggested surrogacy involving Indonesian rhinos, or other rhino species if Indonesia is not interested.

He said the number of wild rhinos, except maybe in Aceh mountains, were too few to be viable if left in the forests.

“That fact should be obvious but has been ignored over the past 40 years,” he said.

The skin cells of the Sabah Sumatran rhinos are currently cultured in laboratories.

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