Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhinoceros – a critically endangered species – has died.
The rhino, named Tam, was found walking around an oil palm plantation in 2008. He was captured and brought to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Malaysia. Efforts were made for Tam to breed with two female rhinos – Puntung and Iman – though the attempts were unsuccessful.
Puntung sadly died in 2017 from cancer, meaning Iman is now the only remaining Sumatran rhino in the country.
Due to severe habitat loss, as well as illegal poaching, it is thought less than 80 Sumatran rhinos now exist in the wild. Most are believed to be on the nearby island of Sumatra, with a few scattered across Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo, according to National Geographic.
Experts believe, because of their dangerously low numbers, isolation is now the biggest threat to the species, as females can develop cysts and fibroids in their reproductive tracts if they do not mate for a long time – this happened to both Puntung and Iman.
Speaking about Tam’s recent death, Margaret Kinnaird, wildlife practice leader for WWF International, said:
Tam’s death underscores how critically important the collaborative efforts driving the Sumatran Rhino Rescue project are.
We’ve got to capture those remaining, isolated rhinos in Kalimantan and Sumatra and do our best to encourage them to make babies.
In 2018, a number of conservation nonprofit organisations teamed up with the Sumatran Rhino rescue to safely capture as many wild rhinos as possible, in order to bring them together for captive breeding.
Tam’s condition, sadly, had been in steady decline since April this year. According to Sabah Wildlife director Augustine Tuuga, Tam’s alertness and appetite started to deteriorate, with tests revealing his kidneys and perhaps other organs were beginning to fail.
Sumatran rhinos have a life expectancy of around 35-40 years, and Tam was believed to be in his 30s. It is thought his old age was a factor in the quick deterioration in Tam’s health.
Margaret Kinnaird added:
We hung so much hope on Tam to produce offspring in captivity, but that hope was dashed when the remaining two females at Tabin were unable to carry fetuses.
Though Tam didn’t produce any offspring, he did allow researchers to better understand his species.
Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation, said:
The work that the Borneo Rhino Alliance did with advanced reproductive techniques, especially harvesting eggs and attempting to create embryos, took us one step further towards understanding of the species’ biology.
The public needs to understand how precarious the survival of Sumatran rhinos is. Tam’s loss represents roughly one percent of the population.
As sad as Tam’s death is, Kinnaird believes it is the wake-up call organisations need to increase their efforts in protecting this rare species.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.