KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia bids farewell to its last male Sumatran rhino, fondly known as Tam, after the animal died but there is still hope that it may contribute its genes to the preservation of the species.
Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew said she was informed of Tam’s death around noon yesterday by state Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga.
“Invariably, everything that could possibly have been done, was done, and executed with great love and dedication,” she said, adding that the one silver lining was that Tam’s living genome was preserved in cell culture.
“We hope that with emerging technologies at the cell and molecular level, he may yet contribute his genes to the survival of the species,” she said.
Tam, which is believed to be in its mid-30s, succumbed to kidney and liver failure.
It died surrounded by veterinarians and caretakers.
Liew said Tam’s final weeks had involved the most intense palliative care given by the Borneo Rhino Alliance team under veterinarian Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin, at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu.
Tam’s death, she said, was related to old age and involved multiple organ failure but added that the precise cause would only be made clearer after an autopsy.
Tam was rescued from an oil palm plantation in Kretam, Tawau, in August 2008.
“At that time, it was thought to be in its mid-20s, meaning that it was now well into old age for a Sumatran rhino,” she said.
After Tam, the only remaining Sumatran rhino is Iman, a female, which is also under thorough care as its health is deteriorating as well.
Conservationists had hoped that Iman and Tam would mate to create an offspring but it did not work due to both the rhinos having health issues.
Last year, Iman, which was rescued from Danum Valley in 2014, suffered uterine tumour bursts and is being closely monitored as it gets older.
It was reported that there had been no new sightings of the rhinos in the jungles of Sabah, and the species is considered extinct in the wild.
If Iman dies, the species will be lost in Malaysia.
There are only about 100 Sumatran rhinos left in the world, with most of them living in the jungles of Sumatra and Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Sabah had many times sought help from Indonesia to get them on board a breeding programme to help save the Sumatran rhino in Sabah, but there is no concrete action.