Nation’s last male Sumatran rhino dies of old age, multiple organ failure

Sabah Wildlife Department personnel attending to Tam, Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino, at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Tam died at around noon today. (Sabah Wildlife Department pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Tam, the last male Sumatran rhino in the country, has lost his fight against old age and multiple organ failure.

The well-loved rhino, believed to be in his mid-30s, died at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve at around noon today.

The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) had been caring for Tam for a while now but he had not responded well to treatment.

Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew said Tam’s death was related to old age and multiple organ failure, adding that the precise cause of death will be clearer after an autopsy.

“At the time of his capture at an oil palm plantation in Kretam, Tawau, in August 2008, he was thought to be in his mid-twenties, meaning that he was now well into old age for a Sumatran rhino,” she said in a statement.

Liew, who is also the state tourism, culture and environment minister, said she was informed of the sad news by SWD director Augustine Tuuga.

“Invariably, everything that could possibly have been done, was done, and executed with great love and dedication.

“His last weeks involved the most intense palliative care humanly possible, rendered by the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) team under veterinarian Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin, at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu,” she said.

Liew said, however, the one bright spot is that Tam’s living genome is preserved in cell culture.

“We hope that with emerging technologies at cell and molecular level, he may yet contribute his genes to the survival of the species,” she said.

Only Iman, a female Sumatran rhino, remains in Sabah now. Another female, Puntung, was euthanised in 2017 because of painful and incurable cancer.