Malaysia: Puntung gains 4kg with better appetite

The Star 29 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Puntung, the Sumatran rhino that successfully underwent a life-saving operation two weeks ago, has regained her appetite and put on 4kg.

However, veterinarians are continuing to give her full-time care and all the necessary medication she needs, in the hope of a full recovery.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said Puntung, one of the last three Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia, was doing well and consuming up to 30kg of food a day now – the typical intake for rhinos of her age and size.

Puntung is 20 years old and weighs 520kg, according to the Borneo Rhino Alliance website.

Tuuga said Puntung had started chewing food – mainly leaves – on the right side of her mouth after surgery on her upper left jaw.

“Puntung is also vocalising a lot, which is a good sign,” he said in a statement here.

Tuuga said three of Puntung’s teeth had to be removed on April 19 because of a large, life-threatening abscess.

He said the keepers also give Puntung a mud pack daily because she missed her wallow.

When Puntung is not out and about, she sleeps on a 20cm-thick mattress.

Dr Zainal Zainuddin, the veterinarian in charge of Puntung’s care, said the swelling and open wound on her left cheek were healing slowly with twice-daily antiseptic washes.

“This is a difficult task as we can’t get the rinse deep enough – she won’t allow it.

“Also, she tends to rub her face against the metal posts and wooden walls of her night stall,” he said.

“We have varied the type of antibiotics given to try to kill off all potential sources of infection,” he said.

“It will be several months before she is 100% recovered,” he added.

Brighter days ahead for Puntung
BRANDON JOHN New Straits Times 28 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: It will take several more months for Sumatran rhino Puntung to fully recover following surgery to remove a severe abscess in her left jaw.

The adult female, one the last three remaining Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia, was reported to have shown good progress under full-time intensive care by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD).

Although there were concerns that the swelling on her left cheek would hinder her ability to eat, Puntung had apparently adapted by chewing leaves on the right side of her mouth.

“She is doing well, vocalising a lot, and eating between 25 and 30 kilogrammes of leaves daily,” said SWD Director Augustine Tuuga, who added that the rhino had gained four kilogrammes since the surgery.

The team in charge of Puntung’s care did however meet with some challenges in her treatment, such as the rhino’s tendency to rub her open wound on the metal posts and wooden walls of her enclosure.

This necessitated the use of various antibiotics to prevent potential infection, said the department’s veterinarian Dr Zainal Z. Zainuddin.

“Furthermore, the wound is flushed with antiseptic twice daily but this is a difficult task as we can’t get the rinse deep enough – she won’t allow it.”

“Still, prognosis is good. However, it will still require several more months before she is 100 per cent recovered,” he said in a press statement.

Puntung had been suffering from an abscess on the upper left side of her jaw before it was removed on April 19.

The two-and-a-half hour operation by a global team of veterinary experts ended with a sigh of relief as Puntung, one of the remaining survivors of a critically-endangered species, continues on her road to recovery.

How Social Media Saved One of the World’s Last Sumatran Rhinos
The female rhino Puntung was treated for an injury in a daring mission.
Austa Somvichian-Clausen National Geographic 25 Apr 17;

Millions of people around the world rely on social media platforms like Twitter to receive minute-to-minute updates on news breaking globally. It isn’t every day though that a single tweet can cause a domino effect that led to the rescue of a severely endangered Sumatran Rhino named Puntung.

A few weeks ago, South Africa-based environmental journalist Adam Welz clicked on a link to an article about one of the last two female Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia, and the facial abscess that threatened to take her life.

The tweet that started it all, which was sent out by Adam Welz shortly after reading about Puntung.

Despite not describing himself as a “bunny hugger,” Welz knew that saving this animal’s life had real conservational significance. “When you’re dealing with a species right on the edge of extinction, every last individual matters,” he says.

There are less than 100 Sumatran rhinos left in the world, and only three in Malaysia. Welz immediately sprang into action upon reading the article by contacting Johan Marais, CEO of Saving the Survivors, a South African non-profit organization that treats and cares for endangered wildlife that falls victim to poaching or traumatic incidents. Welz connected STS with the Borneo Rhino Alliance, where Puntung resides.

At this point, the Borneo Rhino Alliance had unsuccessfully been treating Puntung for her abscess and had determined that an infected tooth was the cause.

With the help and coordination of Zoe Glyphis of Saving the Survivors, veterinary dentist Tum Chinkangsadam from Thailand flew in to help, along with the Singapore Zoo’s senior veterinarian, Abraham Mathew, who had the skill and knowledge to perform an extremely tricky Sumatran Rhino anesthetization without killing Puntung in the process.

The group of doctors used the messaging application WhatsApp to coordinate their travel logistics.

“This all happened in less than 10 days. The first correspondence was on the 7th of April and we boarded our flight on the morning of the 17th,” says Glyphis. “Puntung is one of three remaining Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia. This species is critically endangered and it is our responsibility to ensure they get the care they need and deserve.”


The band of multinational veterinarians trekked to the remote sanctuary in Sabah, Malaysia. First, Mathew put Puntung under general anesthesia. Next the team took radiographs of the teeth. Chinkangsadam removed three of her teeth.

Three of Puntung's teeth ended up having to be removed as a result of her life-threatening facial abscess.

Within two hours of the procedure, Puntung was starting to feed again and slowly became more vocal, “just like a Sumatran rhino should,” says Glyphis.

It is Welz’s hope that the success of Puntung’s surgery will help draw attention to the Borneo Rhino Alliance and their efforts to save the Sumatran rhino. He explained that the NGO is critically underfunded because attention has been focused on more well-known charismatic megafauna, such as the elephant. “I think the Sumatran rhino has not had good PR,” says Welz.

Despite the amount of international travel that occurred this week to save Puntung, Welz orchestrated these efforts all from the comfort of his home in Cape Town, South Africa.

“I can sit here halfway around the world and broker veterinary care for a rhino,” says Welz. “I like the fact that I can be sitting at my desk half a world away and just go ‘hmmm…here’s a problem. I think I can help to solve it.’” If you would like to donate to the Borneo Rhino Alliance you can do so by clicking here, and to donate to Saving the Survivors click here.

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