Malaysia: Puntung, one of Malaysia's last Sumatran rhinos, is dying of cancer

AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 28 May 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Puntung, one of Malaysia's last surviving Sumatran rhinos, is now at death's door.

The female rhino has been diagnosed with squamous cell cancer, which has been spreading rapidly over the last few weeks.

Specialists from various countries have all delivered the same devastating verdict: with or without treatment, the cancer will be fatal for the 25-year-old rhino.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga, announcing this, said that as of today, Puntung can no longer breathe through her left nostril.

"She can also no longer vocalise. She is in pain and her condition is declining fast.

"Other than administering painkillers, there is nothing more anyone can do," he said.

Tuuga said the department has been left with little choice but to make a very difficult decision.

"We are left with no other recourse except to agree with professional medical advice and accordingly, we have authorised euthanasia."

"This was a very difficult decision to make, but the specialists agree that on balance, this is the best out of a very small number of unpleasant choices," he said.

The euthanasia will be done on June 15.

In April, Puntung underwent an operation to extract two molars and a premolar from the upper left side of her jaw, which had been causing severe abscess.

The surgery was performed by veterinary dentist Dr Tum Chinkangsadarn from Thailand, who found that the source of the abscess was a formation caused by an accumulation of bacteria on the severely-calcified molars.

The calcification also loosened two adjacent teeth.

Tuuga said it turned out that the swelling on Puntung’s left cheek that alerted them to the infected tooth root had a more serious origin.

"After the surgery, the swelling progressed, and two subsequent biopsies revealed squamous cell carcinoma," explained Tuuga.

Sabah is home to only three out of the last few critically-endangered Sumatran rhinos. The remaining numbers are in Indonesia.

Puntung, another female rhino Iman, and male Kertam, are being cared by a non-governmental organisation, Borneo Rhino Alliance, at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu.

Puntung was captured in 2011. It was subsequently established that she was the last remaining wild rhino in the Reserve.

The loss of Puntung would prove to be a catastrophic loss to the future of the species as at 25-years-old, she still has a few years of egg production left to be used for in-vitro fertilisation.

Puntung, the Sumatran rhino, is dying
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 28 May 17;

KOTA KINABALU: All hope of saving Puntung – one of the remaining three Sumatran rhinos in Sabah – is gone after veterinarians confirmed that she is dying of squamous cell cancer.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said Puntung had earlier undergone dental surgery, which was believed could save her and her species.

However, euthanasia is now being considered.

“We thought that we had saved her from her life-threatening dental infection a few months ago.

“But now, it turns out that that the swelling on Puntung’s left cheek that alerted us to the infected tooth root had a more serious origin,” he said when contacted.

He said the swelling on Puntung’s cheek had progressed after her surgery and two subsequent biopsies revealed she has squamous cell carcinoma.

Tuuga said the cancer has been spreading rapidly over the past few weeks and specialists from several countries agree that it would be fatal – with or without treatment.

“As of today, Puntung can no longer breathe through her left nostril. She can no longer vocalise, she is in pain and her condition is declining fast.

“Other than administering painkillers, there is nothing more anyone can do,” he said.

Veterinarians and other specialists are now making preparations to perform Oocyte retrieval (the process of collecting mature eggs directly from a female’s ovaries, prior to their release from ovarian follicles) on Puntung.

If the procedure is succesful, Puntung may be able to contribute to the survival of her species.

Sabah’s Sumatran rhino population has dwindled to just three specimens in captivity, with the animal considered extinct in the wild.



Puntung to be put to sleep
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 29 May 17;

KOTA KINABALU: There will be only two Sumatran rhinos left in Sabah when the third will be put to sleep next month.

Puntung, which recently underwent dental surgery, was expected to recover from what was thought to be a tooth infection.

However Puntung is dying of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a form of cancer characterised by uncontrolled cell growth in the upper layers of the skin.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said Puntung, which is currently receiving palliative care, is expected to be euthanised on June 15.

“We thought we had saved her from her life-threatening dental infection a few months ago.

“But it turned out that the swelling on Puntung’s left cheek that alerted us to the infected tooth root had a more serious origin,” he said.

After the swelling on her cheek grew following the surgery, two subsequent biopsies revealed she had SCC, which has been spreading rapidly over the past few weeks.

“As of today, Puntung can no longer breathe through her left nostril. She can no longer vocalise, is in pain, and her condition is declining fast.

“Other than administering painkillers, there is nothing more anyone can do,” said Tuuga, who revealed that specialists from several countries said the outcome would be fatal, with or without treatment.

“Authorising euthanasia is one of the most difficult decisions to make, but it is the best option for the suffering animal,” he added.

Veterinarians are now making preparations to recover mature eggs from Puntung’s ovaries so that an artificial breeding programme can be carried out.

Those who have been involved in taking care of Puntung, especially the Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) and the Sime Darby Foundation, were devastated by the news.

Bora executive director Dr John Payne said Bora accepted the opinion of experts that any form of conventional treatment would just prolong Puntung’s agony.

Payne thanked all those involved in monitoring Puntung in the wild since 2007, as well for her care since her capture and translocation in 2011.

Sabah’s Sumatran rhino population consists of a male called Tam, and two females, Puntung and Iman. Previous attempts to get Puntung and Iman to mate with Tam were unsuccessful as the uterus of both female rhinos were lined with cysts.

The animal is already considered extinct in the wild, even though the rest of the surviving population, estimated to be only several dozen, are believed to be still roaming the Kalimantan side of Indonesia.


Experts to harvest rhino’s eggs
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 30 may 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Experts from Germany are expected to arrive in the middle of June to harvest the eggs and skin cells from Puntung, the cancer-ridden Sumatran rhino that will be euthanised soon.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the eggs and skin cells would enable an artificial breeding programme to be carried out in future to save the species, which is already consider­ed extinct in Sabah as the animal has not been spotted in the wild for the past seven years.

“We are doing whatever is possible to save our rhinos,” he said.

Puntung suffers from late stage squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a form of cancer characterised by uncontrolled growth of cells in the upper layers of the skin.

Puntung is expected to be euthanised on June 15, as specialist advice from several countries said her condition was terminal.

Puntung, being among the three remaining captive rhinos in Sabah, can no longer vocalise or breathe through her left nostril, and is deteriorating fast.

Veterinarians are administering painkillers to enable her to be as pain-free as possible.

According to Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), which has funded rhino conservation in Sabah, Puntung’s fate should be a lesson for all, with YSD chairman Tun Musa Hitam saying the bleak situation calls for a lot of soul-searching.

“Future generations would certainly blame us for failing to save this species from extinction,” the former deputy prime minister said, adding that those involved in conservation efforts should reflect on the situation, especially after the Sabah Wildlife Department, Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) and YSD collaborated to save Puntung since her discovery in 2009.

Bora executive director Datuk Dr John Payne said advanced reproductive and cellular technologies might be the only methods left to ensure the survival of the species.

Sabah’s Sumatran rhino population now consists of a male called Tam, and two females, Puntung and Iman.

Previous attempts to get Puntung and Iman to mate with Tam were unsuccessful as the female rhinos’ uteruses are lined with cysts.

The surviving Sumatran rhino population, estimated at only seve­ral dozens, still roam Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan.


Puntung's condition a lesson for all, says Musa Hitam
New Straits Times 29 May 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: The terminal condition faced by Puntung, should be a lesson to all off the dire straits facing Sumatran rhinoceros.

Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) Chairman Tun Musa Hitam, in expressing his regret and sorrow about Puntung’s condition, said those related to the conservation efforts should reflect on the present situation.

“After spending so much time and funding to conserve the Sumatran rhinoceros since 2009, I regret that it has come to this and let this be a lesson to all those related to the efforts as well as the world at large.

“This is a very sad development. Future generations would certainly blame us for failing to save this species from extinction,” Musa said today.

Puntung, one of the three remaining Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia, is suffering from a squamous cell carcinoma in her left cheek.

It is learnt that the cancer is spreading rapidly and Puntung will not survive much longer, even with treatment.

The state government has authorised euthanasia on Puntung, after deliberation with experts.

YSD had worked with the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) and the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) to save the Sumatran rhinoceros in Sabah over the past eight years up to February this year, including the rescue, translocation and care of Puntung, with an allocation of RM13.8 million.

With Puntung’s death imminent, there will only be two Sumatran rhinoceros left in Malaysia.

BORA Executive Director Dr John Payne, as of yesterday, Puntung can no longer breathe through her left nostril nor vocalise. She is in pain and her condition is declining rapidly.

“This is devastating news for all of those who have been involved in Puntung’s life over the past ten years, from those in SOS Rhino who monitored her wild in the Tabin forests since 2007, those who captured her in 2011 and those who cared for her daily and still care for her right up to now,” he said.

He added that BORA’s staff, who have had Puntung under intensive care over the past two months, have been shocked by the very visible rapid growth in the size of the carcinoma.

From 2009 to February 2017, YSD had spent RM13.8 million towards conserving the Sumatran rhinoceros, with funds channeled towards an artificial reproductive technology (ART) programme to help breed the Sumatran rhinoceros and help save the species from extinction.

Currently, the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve is caring for two female Sumatran rhinoceros – Puntung and Iman – as well as a male rhino – Tam.

Since 2009, YSD has committed RM131 million towards the protection of high conservation value ecosystems, vulnerable and endangered species as well as initiatives promoting the preservation of the environment and biodiversity.


Dedicated breeding programme only hope for Sumatran rhino: WWF
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 30 May 17;

KOTA KINABALU: An animal conservation programme dedicated to breeding Sumatran rhinos is crucial to prevent the critically-endangered species from going extinct.

World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF) executive director and chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said while the species is extinct in the wild in Malaysia, there is still hope for the rhino in Indonesia.

He concedes, however, that organising a breeding programme would be difficult.

“Experts have estimated that the current population in Indonesia is likely to be less than 100 individuals scattered in small, isolated groups in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“The population is so thinly spread out that breeding is believed to be minimal, which means that this species could go extinct within the next ten years, if not sooner,” he said in a statement

He added that the case of Puntung, one of the last rhinos in Sabah, which is awaiting euthanasia due to terminal skin cancer, is a wake-up call.

Dionysius called upon the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia, and all Sumatran rhinoceros conservation organisations, to work together as a dedicated team.

He added that the focus of Sumatran rhinoceros conservation should be on rescuing all remaining wild individuals for management in advanced facilities; increasing the number of births; and facilitating the movement of individuals and gametes among facilities as a population management tool.

The application of advanced reproductive technology (ART), as advocated by Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) – which is currently being attempted with renowned international reproductive scientists – remains the best bet to ensure that the species will be saved.

Meanwhile, the WWF Network Executive Team (NET) has mandated the creation of a Sumatran rhino working group, comprising representatives from WWF-Indonesia and partner offices, with the goal of pushing Sumatran rhino conservation to the top of the agenda of relevant governments, and to seek a common approach and agreements among all NGOs working on Sumatran rhino conservation.

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