Malaysia: Cancer-stricken Sumatran rhino put to sleep
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Malaysia: Cancer-stricken Sumatran rhino put to sleep

A RARE Sumatran rhinoceros that touched the hearts of many Malaysians was euthanised on Sunday to end its suffering from skin cancer.

The 25-year-old female rhinoceros named Puntung, one of three surviving Sumatran rhinos on the brink of extinction in the Southeast Asian country, has been put to sleep at Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Malaysia.

According to The Star, Puntung was having difficulty in breathing and was bleeding through her nostrils, forcing her keepers to euthanise her on Sunday, 10 days ahead of the planned date to end her suffering.

Keepers said the rhino had been asleep for most of the past week at the forest paddock while under round-the-clock surveillance.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga was quoted as saying the large carcinoma, or skin cancer, on the left side of Puntung’s face had grown rapidly in size, a clear indication the rhino was in “significant difficulty.”

SEE ALSO: Only 3 Sumatran rhinos remain in Malaysia – Is it too late to save them?

“In our consultations with the 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,” Tuuga said.

In April, veterinarians removed a life-threatening abscess from Puntung’s upper jaw. The rhino showed signs of improvement, but later contracted skin cancer that spread rapidly in the following months.

Tuuga said Indonesian rhino reproductive specialist Prof Arief Boediono flew in from Jakarta in a bid to recover any egg cells that might be present in Puntung’s ovaries, according to The Star.

“If any can be retrieved and are matured, frozen sperm from male rhino Tam will be thawed for fertilisation,” Tuuga said.

Tuuga said it would take a few days to know the outcome of possible fertilisation.

Tissue samples of the rhino will be given to institutions throughout the country in order to preserve her genome.

The Sumatran Rhinoceros is considered an extinct species in the wild in Malaysia. Two other rhinos, a male and a female, remain at the wildlife reserve and are thought to be the only specimens left in the country.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia: Sumatran rhino’s first birthday signals hope for species

Many wildlife groups see Puntung’s death as a wake-up call for conservation efforts. Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), a non-governmental organisation taking part in the conservation effort, had honoured the rhino for overcoming many odds.

“We’ll always remember her as a fighter. She survived a poacher’s attempt as a calf, when her foot was cut off. But she refused to give up and went on to survive in the forests,” the group said on Facebook.

“She then became pregnant in the wild, but tragically lost her baby. The complications of that pregnancy resulted in her having cysts in her uterus, but still she fought on… till the very end.”

The group said there were now only two Rhinos left in Malaysia and less than 100 in Indonesia.

According to Bora, Puntung’s passing is the third captive Sumatran rhino death in the past 3.5 years. In the same period, there has only been one birth in captivity.

With wild populations continuing to face risks, Bora said the number of deaths could dangerously continue to outpace the number of births.

“This is the great tragedy at our doorstep. One that we must fight. But we can’t do this alone.”