Sabah seeks rhino breeding deal with Indonesia

Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew receiving a painting from Alexander Yee, president of the Kinabatangan-Corridor of Life Tourism Operators Association, during a visit by a delegation from the association to her office in Kota Kinabalu today.

KOTA KINABALU: Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew will lead a delegation from Sabah to Jakarta to resume talks on the possibility of breeding the nation’s last Sumatran rhino through advanced reproductive technology (ART).

Liew, who is also the state tourism, culture and environment minister, said the delegation comprising Sabah Wildlife Department officials is also planning to visit Aceh in north Sumatra, which has a population of more than 50 rhinos

She said they are keeping their fingers crossed that the discussions will bear fruit this time around after previous unsuccessful initiatives.

Liew said the Indonesian consul-general here will help set up the meeting in the Indonesian capital after Hari Raya.

“We hope this time we will be able to negotiate with Indonesia to take the eggs from the female rhino here and send them there for fertilisation,” she said.

Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino, Tam, died on May 27 due to old age and multiple organ failure.

Tam, believed to be about 35 years old, grew sick in April and his health worsened last month and had to be taken care of by wildlife officers at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve until his death.

The only Sumatran rhino in the country now is a female, Iman, which was found to have tumours in her uterus when she was captured in 2014.

However, Iman was capable of producing eggs, which could be fertilised in the laboratory through in vitro fertilisation with sperm from an Indonesian male rhino.

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

Liew said Sabah was eager for the talks to succeed to save the species from extinction.

“Tam’s death is not only a loss for Sabahans but also the whole of Malaysia.

“We will try to save the female rhino and try to produce more rhinos. Even one or two would suffice for now,” she said.

Liew also said her ministry will be presenting papers on the conservation of three protected species in Sabah – the clouded leopard, the proboscis monkey and the banteng (wild cattle) – at the next state Cabinet meeting.

“The Sabah Wildlife Department is coming up with an action plan for this,” she said.