Sabah hopes for change of mind by Indonesia on rhino breeding

Sabah Wildlife Department personnel caring for Tam, the last male Sumatran rhino in the country, at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve before his death on May 27. (Facebook pic)

KOTA KINABALU: After the death of its last male Sumatran rhino, Sabah is hoping that Indonesia will accept its proposal for a breeding programme despite not having signed 13 memorandums of understanding (MOUs) previously.

Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew said negotiations on a breeding programme had been carried out over the past decade and 13 MoUs drawn up.

“Our side signed but Indonesia did not,” she said, adding that she did not know the reason.

Liew, who is also the state tourism, culture and environment minister, said she had not seen the MoUs but hoped to kick-start a new round of talks with the Indonesia government and wildlife authorities.

The talks will centre around a breeding programme, including fertilising eggs belonging to the only Sumatran rhino left in the country through advanced reproductive technology (ART)

“I’m very open in the terms and conditions,” Liew told reporters at the state-level Hari Raya open house here today.

“I understand that the first rhino (born through ART) must go to Indonesia. I am okay with that. But I have asked to fertilise more than one egg,” she said.

Liew and Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga will meet with the Indonesian consul-general here tomorrow to arrange for a visit to Indonesia in the coming weeks.

She had said last week a delegation from Sabah Wildlife was also planning to visit Aceh in north Sumatra, which has a population of more than 50 rhinos.

“We have waited too long. Let us close this deal with Indonesia in helping us get the rhino issue settled,” she said.

Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino, Tam, died on May 27 from 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.

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.

Liew said Tam’s remains will be preserved and placed at the state museum.