Test-tube breeding may be last hope to save rhino

Tam, the last male Sumatran rhinoceros in Sabah, died at noon today of old age and organ failure. (Facebook pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah officials hope Indonesia will agree to help save the Sumatran rhinoceros from extinction.

Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew said officials intend to resume talks with the Indonesian government on the possibility of breeding the country’s last remaining rhinoceros, a female called Iman, through advanced reproductive technology.

Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino, known as Tam, died today of old age and multiple organ failure.

Tam, believed to be aged around 35 years, grew sick in April and his health worsened earlier this month and had been under the extra care of wildlife officers at Tabin Wildlife Reserve until his death.

The female, Iman, was found to have tumours in her uterus when she was captured in 2014, Liew said.

However, Iman was capable of producing eggs which can be harvested with the help of experts from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany.

“The egg can be fertilised in the laboratory through in vitro fertilisation with sperm from an Indonesian male rhino,” said Liew, who is also Sabah tourism, culture and environment minister.

“The embryo that can be produced from this process can then be implanted to a surrogate Indonesian female mother rhino.”

Liew said ownership of the offspring will be shared with Indonesia, but it would be kept at the Way Kambas Rhino Sanctuary, Lampung in Sumatera.

Talks with Indonesia have been going on for some time but have yielded no results so far.