- Raymond Alfred/WWF Malaysia
Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino, Tam, has died.
This leaves the country with just one last female from the species, which is dangerously close to extinction.
The elderly male rhinoceros passed away around noon on Monday (May 27) surrounded by caretakers and a veterinarian, according to a Bernama report. His age was estimated at 35 years old.
Bernama quoted Malaysia’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Christina Liew, as saying the rhino died due to old age and multiple organ failure.
The animal’s health had been deteriorating rapidly since April, and he was already in palliative care on Sunday (May 26), according to a Facebook post by the Borneo Rhino Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to preventing the rhino’s extinction in Borneo.
According to the WWF, Sumatran rhinos are the smallest living rhinoceroses, and are closely related to extinct woolly rhinos. While they once roamed as far as China and India, there are only about 80 of them left on Earth, living in Borneo and Sumatra.
WWF added that with only two captive females managing to reproduce in the last 15 years, there was no indication that the species’ population was stable.
In a Facebook post, WWF Malaysia said that Tam’s death spelled the loss of not just an animal, but an entire species.
“If we are not careful, the Sumatran rhino will not be the only species that will go extinct under our watch… Let the loss of Tam be the wake up call that we need to spring into action,” it wrote in a Facebook post alongside a photo of the rhino.
According to a report by environmental news site Mongabay, Tam was named after the Kretam palm oil plantation in Sabah, the spot where he was first captured in 2008 before being moved to the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin.
The report quoted Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga as saying that the rhino had a “calm and steady manner” and was a favourite with researchers and visitors.
With Tam gone, Malaysia only has a female named Iman left in captivity, but she has problems reproducing due to tumors in her uterus.
Environment Minister Liew said the government hopes to harvest her eggs and fertilise them in the laboratory with sperm from Indonesian male rhinos.