Sabah rushes to sign MoU with Indonesia as last female Sumatran rhino’s condition worsens

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 20 Nov 2019

The the last surviving female Sumatran rhino Iman at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu. - Filepic

KOTA KINABALU: The condition of last surviving Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, Iman is deteriorating as Sabah stares at the total extinction of the species.

The state government is now rushing to sign an agreement with Indonesia that will allow them to collaborate in rhino conservation via scientific methods, in particular getting sperm from healthy Indonesian male rhinos.

Deputy Chief Minister cum State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew said they are now bracing for the worst as the female rhino weighs 476 kilogrammes this week, 44 kilogrammes less than her average weight over the past few years.

“The team led by Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin, who are looking after Iman in Tabin Wildlife Reserve at Sabah’s east coast, reported that her health is steadily declining.

“She is not eating her normal amount and is being given supplements.

“The problem is that the tumours in her uterus detected soon after her capture in March 2014 have been growing in size since then.

“Although they are not malignant, they are spreading to her bladder.

“The veterinarians tell me that there is no way to halt the growth of these tumours, and surgery to remove them always was and still is too dangerous – there would be inevitable major blood loss that would result in her quick demise, ” she told reporters at the sidelines of the state assembly on Wednesday (Nov 20).

Liew added that the situation reminded them of the case of another female rhino Puntung, who was euthanised on June 4,2017, because her squamous cell carcinoma was incurable and she was suffering in pain.

Liew said she was told it could be a matter of weeks before "something takes place".

In view of that, she said they might go to Indonesia as early as next week to sort out the legalities of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), including who will get the offspring if such in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) procedure turns out successful.

The last IVF attempt using sperm from Tam, the male rhino who died in May whose sperm was frozen, was not successful due to sperm's poor quality, she added.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said currently there are no frozen eggs from Iman, who is estimated to be around 25 years old, and they hoped to harvest more eggs from her while they can.

“If the agreement with Indonesia works out, the plan is to collect fresh eggs from Iman and get fresh semen from Indonesia’s young rhinos and do the IVF procedure immediately. We can do the procedure here in University Malaysia Sabah or at Indonesia’s Bogor facility.

“But we need to wait for her next cycle to produce eggs.She had to be injected with hormones to control growth of tumours. While this reduced size of tumours, it inhibits egg production, ” said Augustine, hoping that Iman will survive till next year, long enough to see the deal go through.

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