First it was Puntung, a female rhinoceros which was euthanised in 2017. Then it was Kertam or Tam, a male rhinoceros who died in May before the last one, Iman, died over the weekend. NSTP/Courtesy of Sabah Wildlife Department

MALAYSIA tried but it was in vain.

The last decade saw many people giving their time and effort to ensure the survival of the country’s last three Sumatran rhinoceroses, yet they failed.

Right from when civil society, scientists, rangers and advocates began with the noble crusade, there were tell-tale signs of the outcome.

Many knew it was not an easy task, but they still proceeded.

First it was Puntung, a female rhinoceros which was euthanised in 2017. Then it was Kertam or Tam, a male rhinoceros who died in May before the last one, Iman, died over the weekend.

Tam was the first captured and looked after in a collaboration that involved many people and organisations in a last-ditch attempt to save the species in 2008.

Little did they know of Tam’s being shot as gunshot pellet fragments were found embedded in its hind leg and tail.

This was discovered by taxidermists who were tasked with mounting its remains so that it could be displayed at the Sabah Museum.

This indicated that the people who wanted to keep it alive were not the only humans it encountered in its lifetime.

During its time in captivity within the confines of the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Tam was cared for until its death in May, just like cancer-stricken Puntung in June 2017 and Iman on Saturday.

Similarly, Puntung suffered physical trauma caused by humans, having its hoof severed, possibly by a snare.

Puntung was named a “Christmas miracle”, having been trapped towards the end of the year in 2011 before it was sent to Tabin to join Tam then.

Then there was Iman. The last hope for the species, which was caught in Danum Valley, a primary forest reserve in 2014.

If there was a lesson that needed to be learnt, it should be the country’s willingness to acknowledge its weaknesses and correct past mistakes.

Despite having laws that protect rhinoceroses, there were evidence of human cruelty.

The killings of Bornean pygmy elephants for their tusks recently show how serious the poaching problem is, as well as the continuing irresponsible land exploitation in Sabah.

The deaths of the three rhinoceroses open the eyes
and minds of many people that the threat of species extinction is real.

Even as the rhinoceroses grunt and squeak before being captured, it is hard to imagine how they must have felt being the last of their kind, lonely and pursued by hunters.

There are other endangered species too. Has anyone spotted any dugong lately? What about the sawfish?

There are more animals in the country’s list of endangered species, but at least they still have a chance for survival.

Not the Sumatran rhinoceroses though. They are gone forever in Malaysia.

The writer is former NST Sabah bureau chief