KOTA KINABALU: There could be hope yet for Sabah’s critically endangered Sumatran rhino population with Indonesian authorities reportedly considering sending semen samples of the animal to Malaysia.
Wiratno, a senior official with Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, was quoted as saying the sperm stored at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary is likely to be sent to Malaysia sometime this year.
This is certainly music to the ears of conservationists in Sabah, particularly the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), which has been working tirelessly to save the species, said to be extinct in Sabah’s wild.
Only two Sumatran rhinos remain in Sabah through the captive-breeding programme at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu.
A cow rhino, named Puntung, was put to sleep in June last year after failing to respond to treatment for skin cancer.
The Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, a managed breeding facility, is located in 250 hectares in Indonesia’s Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra, and is home to seven individuals.
SWD director Augustine Tuuga welcomed the news and was grateful the Indonesian government was considering lending a helping hand towards conservation efforts in Sabah.
He said officials and experts from both countries held talks on conservation breeding, including on Malaysia’s advanced reproductive technology programme, between Oct 18 and 20 in Jakarta last year.
“Hopefully, the memorandum of agreement for cooperation in Sumatran rhinoceros conservation will be signed by the Indonesian and Malaysian governments soon to allow the establishment of a joint working group.
“This will pave the way for the full implementation of the cooperation,” he added.
Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun had previously said it was vital to look to science to revive the Sumatran rhino population.
“I can tell you they (Sabah Wildlife Department) have not been sleeping (on this),” he said.
Meanwhile, Tuuga said the health of the sole cow Sumatran rhino, known as Iman, was improving and she was eating well again.
“But the (blood) discharge is still there (and) she’s not fully recovered. She is still in the paddock, under treatment,” he said.
Iman’s health deteriorated last year despite being given various medication and supplements, besides not eating properly by refusing her normal diet of fruits.
SWD veterinarians were treating her for a bleeding uterus while caretakers also spotted Iman discharging partially clotted blood from her reproductive organ.
The other rhino at Tabin is a bull called Tam. Efforts to mate the last two rhinos have been futile, so far.