Malaysia mourns the passing of their last male Sumatran Rhino, a day we wish never happened.

Found roaming an oil palm plantation in 2008, Tam was captured and brought to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve based in Sabah, Malaysia.

Efforts were made to pair Tam with two resident females named Puntung and Iman, but both attempts were sadly unsuccessful.

Puntung passed away in 2017 due to cancer, leaving Iman as the last remaining female and with Tam now leaving this world behind, Iman remains the last Sumatran Rhino in the country.

Severe habitat loss and poaching are the main cause behind this species’ demise, with less than 80 thought to currently exist in the wild, most believed to be on the nearby island of Sumatra and a few possibly scattered across Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo based on National Geographic‘s findings.

Experts warn that due to dangerously low numbers, isolation is now their biggest threat as females likely develop cysts and fibroids in their reproductive tract when they have not mated in a long time – this was both the case for Puntung and Iman.

Speaking about Tam’s recent death, Margaret Kinnaird, wildlife practice leader for WWF International, said:

Tam’s death underscores how critically important the collaborative efforts driving the Sumatran Rhino Rescue project are.

We’ve got to capture those remaining, isolated rhinos in Kalimantan and Sumatra and do our best to encourage them to make babies.

A number of conservation NPO’s teamed up with the Sumatran Rhino rescue in 2018 to safely capture as many rhinos as possible to possibly bring them together for captive breeding purposes.

Sadly, Tam’s condition was in steady decline since April this year and according to Sabah Wildlife director Augustine Tuuga, Tam’s appetite was falling drastically and the alertness left his face. Tests revealed that his kidneys, along with other organs were failing and by that stage there was not much they could do to change things.

Sumatran Rhinos have an average life expectancy of 35-40 years and Tam was believed to be in his 30’s, leaving the park assuming age to be a factor in Tam’s rapid decline.

Margaret Kinnaird added:

We hung so much hope on Tam to produce offspring in captivity, but that hope was dashed when the remaining two females at Tabin were unable to carry fetuses.

And although Tam failed to produce any offspring for the park, he allowed the researchers access to better understanding his species.

Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation, said:

The work that the Borneo Rhino Alliance did with advanced reproductive techniques, especially harvesting eggs and attempting to create embryos, took us one step further towards understanding of the species’ biology.

The public needs to understand how precarious the survival of Sumatran rhinos is. Tam’s loss represents roughly one percent of the population.

Kinnard believes that as sad as it may be that we lost Tam, it may be the wake up call organisations need to hear in order to increase their efforts to protect such a rare, special species.

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