Last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia dies, species now extinct in the country

The Sumatran rhinoceros has become extinct in Malaysia, after the last of the species in the country succumbed to cancer on Saturday (Nov 23).

The Wildlife Department in eastern Sabah state on Borneo Island announced that the 25-year-old female rhino, named Iman, died of natural causes due to shock in her system at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve.

The critically endangered Sumatran rhino is the smallest of the living rhinoceroses and the only Asian rhino with two horns. The species once roamed across Asia, but its numbers have dwindled because of poaching and habitat loss. The WWF conservation group estimates there are only about 80 left, mostly living in the wild in Sumatra and Borneo.

“Iman was given the very best care and attention since her capture in March 2014 right up to the moment she passed,” said Sabah State Tourism, Culture, and Environment Minister Christina Liew.

“No one could have done more,” Liew said.

She added that Iman had, over the years, almost died on several occasions due to sudden massive blood loss from her uterine tumors.

“The team at Tabin provided round-the-clock intensive support and successfully brought her back to good health and egg cell production on several occasions,” she said.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga mourned Iman’s death, which he said came sooner than expected.

“But we knew that she was starting to suffer significant pain from the growing pressure of the tumors into the bladder,” he said.

Iman’s passing came six months after the death of the country’s only male Sumatran rhino in Sabah. Another female rhino also died in captivity in 2017 in the state. Efforts to breed them have been futile, but Sabah state authorities have harvested their cells for reproduction.

Further, the Sabah authorities still hope that it would be possible to obtain some egg cells from Iman for a potential collaboration with Indonesia to reproduce the species through artificial insemination.

Nevertheless, both parties have not signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU).

Liew said Sabah was still keen to pursue the MoU despite Iman’s death.

“For Sabah, that includes the management of female Sumatran rhinos with reproductive pathology, safe harvesting of gametes from living rhinos, and cell culture,” she added.

She said Iman and Tam (a male rhino that died on May 27 this year due to kidney and liver damage) both lived on as cell cultures.


A Sumatran rhino (for representational purpose only). Picture credit: Bill Konstant/International Rhino Foundation (WWF)