KOTA KINABALU: Cancer-ridden Puntung (pic), one of the last few Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia who captured global attention in recent months, was put to sleep early Sunday at the Tabin wildlife reserve in Sabah’s east coast Lahad Datu.
The decision to put Puntung to sleep was made after its keepers realised that it was having breathing difficulties and bleeding through the nostrils.
Keepers Wilson Kuntil, Hassan Sani and Samad Gubin had observed that Puntung was sleeping for most of the week at its forest paddock as they watched it round the clock.
“The carcinoma (skin cancer) had been growing rapidly in size and there were clear signs that Puntung was experiencing significant breathing difficulties,” Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said in disclosing the decision to put Puntung to sleep.
“In our consultations with our rhino reproduction advisers at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and others, the decision was taken to end her growing discomfort and bring forward the planned date of the procedure.
“Previously, we were targeting June 15,” he said.
He said Puntung’s ovaries were immediately harvested and rushed to the Agro-Biotechnology Institute in Serdang to contribute to the survival of her species.
Tuuga also said that Indonesian reproductive specialist Prof Arief Boediono had arrived from Jakarta and is ready to recover egg cells from the ovaries.
“If any oocytes (eggs cells) can be retrieved and matured, frozen sperm from the male rhino Tam will be thawed for intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection by Prof Arief,” Tuuga said.
Tissue samples from Puntung are also being provided to Malaysian institutions so that her genome can be preserved through cell culture.
He said about 11 keepers had watched over Puntung in recent months, and they included Rasaman Jaya, Marikus Suyat, Justine Sagunting, Joseph Stimon, Ronald Jummy, Davidson Kuntil and Alvin Erut, with Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin in charge.
Puntung had a tooth extraction earlier this year and responded well to treatment but the cancer spread rapidly over the last two months.
Sumatran rhinos are considered extinct in Malaysia because they have not been seen in the wild for over a decade.