Malaysia Mourns After Last Male Sumatran Rhino Dies

May 28, 2019 Updated: May 28, 2019

Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhinoceros has died, leaving behind one female in captivity, with authorities trying for years to save the critically endangered species in the country.

The rhinoceros, named Tam, passed away due to health complications which worsened in his final few days, confirmed the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) in a Facebook post on May 27.

“It is with heavy hearts that we share the tragic news that Tam, Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino, has passed away,” BORA said.

Before his death, Tam, who was about 30 years old, had been suffering from organ failure, BORA said.

Since his capture in 2008, the Sumatran rhino had been living at Tabin Wildlife Reserve in the state of Sabah on Borneo island, said Christina Liew, minister for tourism, culture, and environment.

“Regrettably, Tam died at midday, around noon on Monday, May 27. 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,” Liew said in a statement.

Last month, urine analysis tests showed Tam had poor kidney function and was suffering organ damage, reported the New Straits Times.

Malaysia had been trying to breed Tam through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) with two female rhinos since 2011. Attempts to breed Tam with Puntung, who was captured in 2011 but died in captivity, and Iman, who was captured in 2014 and is the last Sumatran rhinoceros remaining in the country, were not successful.

Sumatran rhinos stand at around 4 feet 3 inches high, making them the smallest rhinoceroses in the world.

Decades of poaching and habitat loss has led wildlife experts to believe fewer than 80 of the subspecies are left in the world, according to Save the Rhino. Most Sumatran rhinos are believed to live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, with the rest in Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo.

Liew said Tam’s living genome has been preserved in the hopes it could be used to help reproduce Sumatran rhinos in the future.

“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.

Wildlife experts believe the greatest threat to the continued existence of the species is isolation, as females are prone to developing fibroids and cysts in their reproductive tracts if they go too long without mating, reported National Geographic.

Iman, Malaysia’s last surviving female Sumatran rhinoceros in captivity, is infertile for this reason as she suffers from a ruptured tumor in her uterus.

Towards the end of Tam’s life in late April, he reportedly displayed a sudden loss of appetite and decline in alertness, and spent the majority of his time lying down, receiving care and medical attention around-the-clock.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga told The Straits Times Tam’s health may have declined so rapidly due to old age, as the animals have a life expectancy of 35 to 40 years.

In a tribute to the male rhinoceros, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said on Facebook: “With Tam gone, we now only have Iman left, our last female rhino.”

“If we are not careful, the Sumatran rhino will not be the only species that will go extinct under our watch.”