Biology

Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino dies

The Sumatran rhinoceros ( Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is a critically endangered species of rhinoceros. Tam, the last male living in a nature reserve on the island of Borneo in Malaysia, died on Monday.

This species is on the verge of extinction according to WWF as there are barely 80 individuals left, a handful of them free and wild in Indonesia.

The cause of death seems not entirely clear but it appears that this rhino suffered from kidney and liver problems.

With Tam’s death it is urgent to make efforts to conserve this species by using in-vitro fertilization techniques to create offspring with the last remaining female in Malaysia, named Iman, and a male from Indonesia.

Iman has fertility problems as her uterus has problems that make her unable to become pregnant although she can produce eggs.

The Sumatran rhino

Among the peculiarities of this species is that the Sumatran rhinoceros is the only Asian species that has two horns like the African ones and that it is closer to extinct species than to the current rhinos. They have a young every three or four years although they are essentially solitary animals that only come together to mate.

Malaysias last male
Malaysias last male

The Sumatran rhino is usually most active when it eats, at sunrise and just after sunset. During the day, they wallow in mud baths to cool off and rest . In the rainy season, they move to higher elevations; in colder months, they return to lower areas in their zone. When mud holes are not available, the rhino makes the puddles bigger with its legs and horns. The wallowing behavior helps the rhino maintain its body temperature and protect its skin from ectoparasites and other insects.

Its natural habitat is tropical rainforests, swamps and cloud forests with a wider original distribution than what its name suggests. It spread across the foothills of the Himalayas, Bhutan, eastern India, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand, southern China, Malacca, Sumatra, and Borneo. Today it can only be found in the more remote mountainous areas of the Malay Peninsula, in Sumatra and in the northeast of the island of Borneo under the protection of Indonesia and Malaysia.

Currently, only five wild populations remain: four in Sumatra and one Borneo, although the latter is in doubt.

Its horns, highly prized by traditional Chinese and South Korean medicine, have led to it being poached. In 2001, eleven people were arrested for the poaching of 9 individuals in a natural park in Sumatra. In the world there are barely 300 individuals left and with this death it is possible that this species has to be declared extinct in Malaysia. There are barely 100 free individuals left in Indonesia seriously threatened by poaching and 9 in captivity.

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