Wildlife experts here bade a sad farewell to Puntung, one of Malaysia’s three remaining Sumatra rhinos, who was put down after a brief battle against cancer. Pic by NSTP/Courtesy of Sabah Wildlife Department

KOTA KINABALU: The worst has come to pass.

Wildlife experts here bade a sad farewell to Puntung, one of Malaysia’s three remaining Sumatran rhinos, who was put down after a brief battle against cancer.

Sabah Wildlife director Augustine Tuuga said the euthanasia procedure was performed at between 7am and 8am at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu.

In a statement, he said the 25-year-old female rhino was placed under close observation prior to her death.

“Her keepers, Wilson Kuntil, Hassan Sani and Samad Gubin had been sleeping for the past week with Puntung in her forest paddock.

“They were very attuned to subtle changes in her behaviour and reported periodic bleeding from the nostrils.

“The carcinoma had been growing rapidly in size and there were clear signs that Puntung was experiencing significant breathing difficulties,” he said.

After consulting rhino reproduction advisers at Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and others, Tuuga said, the decision was made to end Puntung’s agony and bring forward the date of the procedure.

“Previously, we were planning to do it on June 15. In pursuit of the aim to allow Puntung to contribute to the survival of her species, her ovaries were rushed to the Agro-Biotechnology Institute in Serdang,” he added.

Tuuga also said Indonesian reproductive specialist Prof Arief Boediono was ready to recover any egg cells that may be present.

“If any oocytes can be retrieved and matured, frozen sperm from the male rhino Tam will be thawed for intracytoplasmic sperm injection by Prof Arief. We will know the outcome within a few days.

“In addition, tissue samples from Puntung are being provided to Malaysian institutions so that her genome can be preserved through cell cultures,” added Tuuga.

Puntung was recently diagnosed with the deadly squamous cell skin cancer, which spread rapidly after she underwent an operation in April to extract two molars and a premolar from the upper left side of her jaw.

Tuuga had said two subsequent biopsies after Puntung’s successful surgery revealed squamous cell carcinoma.

Specialists from various countries had agreed that the cancer would be fatal, with or without treatment.

The remaining female rhino Iman, and male rhino Kertam, are being cared for by non-governmental organisation Borneo Rhino Alliance, at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu.

Puntung was captured in 2011. It was later established that she was the last remaining wild rhino in the reserve.