KOTA KINABALU: The health of Malaysia's last surviving male Sumatran rhino is fast fading.
Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director Augustine Tuuga said serious concerns are growing over the health of the rhino named Tam, whose appetite and alertness have declined abruptly since late April this year.
"He is now well into old age for a Sumatran rhino," Tuuga said in a statement Sunday (May 19).
"He is receiving round-the-clock attention and medication. Tests are ongoing, but it seems that one or more of his internal organs are not functioning well," he added.
Tam was found wandering in an oil palm plantation in Kretam, Sabah in August 2008 and was thought to be in his mid-20s at the time of his capture.
After a week of being fed and befriended by SWD staff, local non-governmental organisation SOS Rhino (now known as the Borneo Rhino Alliance or Bora) and WWF-Malaysia managed to coax Tam into a crate.
He was brought to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, where he has lived ever since.
Tuuga said Tam has always been a favourite of the people who work with him or visit him, due to his calm and steady manner.
However, hopes of finding a mate for him were dashed when female rhino Puntung, captured in 2011, was found to have multiple cysts throughout her uterus, and Iman, captured in 2014, was found to have massive uterine fibroids.
These illnesses are a reflection of too few rhinos and insufficient breeding success during the last decades of the 20th century.
Puntung was euthanised in 2017 because of painful and incurable cancer.
Since 2011, all efforts in Malaysia to save the species from extinction have been focused on the application of advanced reproductive technology including in vitro fertilisation attempts, as well as collaborating with Indonesia.
To date, neither have met with success.
Rhinos have not been seen in Sabah's jungles for over a decade.