KOTA KINABALU: With the Sumatran rhino facing extinction, Sabah is looking to advances in breeding technology to ensure such wildlife is saved.
Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said that rapid advances in animal cell and molecular biology has made it possible to create sperm and eggs of mammals from their skin cells.
These efforts would help in the conservation of endangered wildlife including banteng (wild cattle), sun bears, the clouded leopard, pangolin, and orangutan.
He said his department has already kicked off programmes to use advanced reproductive technology to save endangered species in Sabah with the support of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.
“This programme of national significance started in 2010. We have appointed an NGO, Borneo Rhino Alliance, to assist us, and it now has two wildlife veterinarians, a senior laboratory technician and two research students on its payroll, as well as rhino keepers,” Tuuga said.
The genome of all four of the last Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia are being kept in living cell cultures both overseas and locally, he said.
He said that Puntung – the female who was euthanised in June – was still “alive” in cell culture in Malaysia.
“We are building up Malaysian expertise in other essential skills such as conducting safe general anaesthesia for large mammals, collection of semen and eggs, and in-vitro fertilisation.
“Semen of sun bears and macaques was collected and stored in liquid nitrogen in 2017. The same will be done for the clouded leopard and proboscis monkey in 2018,” he said in a statement issued here Wednesday.
Tuuga said the Sabah Wildlife Department was working with Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Faculty of Sustainable Agriculture in Sandakan, where an advanced reproductive technology laboratory is being developed.
The department is also working with the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Germany), the Agro-biotechnology Institute Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia, and the International Islamic University Malaysia in Kuantan.
“Other specialist institutions which are helping us are Morula IVF (Indonesia), Avantea (Italy) and the Zoological Park Association of Thailand,” he said.
Tuuga added that the Bornean banteng or tembadau, with about 400 left in the wild, was the most endangered wildlife species in Sabah after the Sumatran rhino.
He said it was definitely a species suitable for captive breeding and for the application of advanced reproductive technology, with a view of reintroducing them into plantations in the longer-term.
“We would be interested to partner with one of the big oil palm plantation companies for this work,” he added.
Tuuga said rare wildlife species would keep going extinct and there was a need to use new and supportive means to save them.
“If these new technologies had been available 20 years ago, we could have produced Sumatran rhino embryos in-vitro and potentially implant these embryos into surrogate mother rhinos in another country,” he said.