Malaysia: Cancer-stricken Puntung the Sumatran rhino euthanised

AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 4 Jun 17;

KOTA KINABALU: The worst has come to pass.

Wildlife experts here bade a sad farewell to Puntung, one of Malaysia’s three remaining Sumatra rhinos, who was put down after a brief battle against cancer.

Sabah Wildlife director Augustine Tuuga said the euthanasia procedure was performed at between 7am and 8am at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu.

In a statement, he said the 25-year-old female rhino was placed under close observation prior to her death.

“Her keepers, Wilson Kuntil, Hassan Sani and Samad Gubin had been sleeping for the past week with Puntung in her forest paddock.

“They were very attuned to subtle changes in her behaviour and reported periodic bleeding from the nostrils.

“The carcinoma had been growing rapidly in size and there were clear signs that Puntung was experiencing significant breathing difficulties,” he said.

After consulting rhino reproduction advisers at Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and others, Tuuga said, the decision was made to end Puntung’s agony and bring forward the date of the procedure.

“Previously, we were planning to do it on June 15. In pursuit of the aim to allow Puntung to contribute to the survival of her species, her ovaries were rushed to the Agro-Biotechnology Institute in Serdang,” he added.

Tuuga also said Indonesian reproductive specialist Prof Arief Boediono was ready to recover any egg cells that may be present.

“If any oocytes can be retrieved and matured, frozen sperm from the male rhino Tam will be thawed for intracytoplasmic sperm injection by Prof Arief. We will know the outcome within a few days.

“In addition, tissue samples from Puntung are being provided to Malaysian institutions so that her genome can be preserved through cell cultures,” added Tuuga.

Puntung was recently diagnosed with the deadly squamous cell skin cancer, which spread rapidly after she underwent an operation in April to extract two molars and a premolar from the upper left side of her jaw.

Tuuga had said two subsequent biopsies after Puntung’s successful surgery revealed squamous cell carcinoma.

Specialists from various countries had agreed that the cancer would be fatal, with or without treatment.

The remaining female rhino Iman, and male rhino Kertam, are being cared for by 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 later established that she was the last remaining wild rhino in the reserve.

Cancer-stricken Puntung put to sleep
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 4 Jun 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Cancer-ridden Puntung (pic), one of the last few Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia who captured global attention in recent months, was put to sleep early Sunday at the Tabin wildlife reserve in Sabah’s east coast Lahad Datu.

The decision to put Puntung to sleep was made after its keepers realised that it was having breathing difficulties and bleeding through the nostrils.

Keepers Wilson Kuntil, Hassan Sani and Samad Gubin had observed that Puntung was sleeping for most of the week at its forest paddock as they watched it round the clock.

“The carcinoma (skin cancer) had been growing rapidly in size and there were clear signs that Puntung was experiencing significant breathing difficulties,” Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said in disclosing the decision to put Puntung to sleep.

“In our consultations with our rhino reproduction advisers at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and others, the decision was taken to end her growing discomfort and bring forward the planned date of the procedure.

“Previously, we were targeting June 15,” he said.

He said Puntung’s ovaries were immediately harvested and rushed to the Agro-Biotechnology Institute in Serdang to contribute to the survival of her species.

Tuuga also said that Indonesian reproductive specialist Prof Arief Boediono had arrived from Jakarta and is ready to recover egg cells from the ovaries.

“If any oocytes (eggs cells) can be retrieved and matured, frozen sperm from the male rhino Tam will be thawed for intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection by Prof Arief,” Tuuga said.

Tissue samples from Puntung are also being provided to Malaysian institutions so that her genome can be preserved through cell culture.

He said about 11 keepers had watched over Puntung in recent months, and they included Rasaman Jaya, Marikus Suyat, Justine Sagunting, Joseph Stimon, Ronald Jummy, Davidson Kuntil and Alvin Erut, with Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin in charge.

Puntung had a tooth extraction earlier this year and responded well to treatment but the cancer spread rapidly over the last two months.

Sumatran rhinos are considered extinct in Malaysia because they have not been seen in the wild for over a decade.


No egg cells in harvested ovaries
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 8 Jun 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia’s hope for the artificial breeding of the Sumatran rhino was dashed as veterinarians failed to recover any eggs from the ovaries of Puntung, who was put to sleep on Sunday.

“No oocytes (egg cells) were found in the ovarian cortex. It was very unfortunate,” said Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga on efforts to preserve Puntung’s bloodline after the animal was euthanised as her skin cancer was deemed untreatable.

Scientists were hoping to artificially inseminate Puntung’s egg cells with frozen sperm obtained from the sole captive male rhino in the country called Tam, in a bid to reverse the fate of Sumatran rhinos, which were considered extinct in Malaysia since 2015.

Right after Puntung was euthanised, veterinarians removed her ovaries and flew them to Agro-Biotechnology Institute in Serdang, Selangor, on the same day for the egg harvesting process.

In the event viable eggs were found, Indonesian reproductive specialist Prof Arief Boediono would then inject Tam’s sperm into them for insemination.

In the meantime, tissue samples of Puntung are now kept in several Malaysian institutions so that her genome can still be preserved.

Puntung captured global attention in recent months after top veterinarians from various parts of the world came forward to assist in what initially appeared to be a bad case of tooth infection.

With Puntung’s demise, the sole remaining captive female Sumatran rhino is Iman.

Previous attempts to get Iman and Puntung to mate with Tam were unsuccessful as their uteruses were lined with cysts.

Last December, Borneo Rhino Alliance executive director Datuk Dr John Payne said advanced reproductive and cellular technologies could be the only methods left to ensure the survival of the Sumatran rhino in Sabah.

Conservationists believe that the remaining Sumatran rhinos, whether in Indonesia or Malaysia, could contribute their genes to produce babies.

The surviving wild population of Sumatran rhinos, estimated to be only several dozens, are still roaming Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan.

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