sabah wildlife department Archives - Rhino Review

WWF-M’sia: Loss of Iman signifies time to focus on protecting wildlife

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Illegal trade No Comments
The Borneo Post | November 25, 2019

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KOTA KINABALU: WWF-Malaysia is saddened by the unfortunate loss of Sabah’s last surviving rhino, Iman, who died on Saturday after a long battle with cancer.

Iman’s death follows Tam, who died earlier this year due to kidney and liver damage.

The loss of Iman signifies the complete loss of the Sumatran rhino in Sabah. The hope of ever seeing this species in the wild is now forever gone.

Over the years, WWF-Malaysia has worked together with the government and other non-governmental organisations to help curb the extinction of the Sumatran rhinoceros in Sabah. The organisations have set up camera traps in search for rhinos, which led to the detection of Tam in 2009 and then Iman in 2014.

Original photo as published by The Borneo Post: Sophia Lim.

In a last bid to save the Sumatran rhino, the Sabah state government, WWF-Malaysia and the Borneo Rhino Alliance met with Indonesian government officials to outline key details in a much-needed collaboration between Malaysia and Indonesia in rhino conservation.

“Malaysia is home to some of the most iconic wildlife species in the world. This includes the Malayan tiger, the Bornean elephant, the Bornean orangutan and many more.

“While we can do little to prevent the loss of the Sumatran rhinos on our lands, we can still do so much for our other remaining species, all of whom are in danger of facing similar fates of extinction if we don’t address the threats that they are facing,” said WWF-Malaysia’s CEO, Sophia Lim.

One of the biggest threats to wildlife is the threat of poaching and illegal wildlife trade. Every day, wildlife like tigers, banteng, pangolins, sun bears and elephants face the threat of poachers who hunt them as part of a lucrative business.

Tackling issues such as poaching requires a concerted effort between all parties – the government, non-governmental organisations and the general public. WWF-Malaysia urges the government to further enhance the effort to eradicate poaching and act fast in bolstering efforts to preserve the remaining wildlife that we have.

“We are heartened that the Royal Malaysian Police has stepped up in collaboration with other agencies to patrol the forest, investigate and make arrest with intelligence provided by Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak Forestry Corporation and Forest Department Sarawak. We have seen some successes in poachers being arrested and seizures of wildlife meat from the makers. This is but a tip of the iceberg of an illegal economy worth billions of dollars.

“Wildlife crime is not just a local problem but is part of an international wildlife trade syndicate associated with drug and human trafficking, as well as money laundering. As such, the call to set up a Wildlife Crime Bureau within the Royal Malaysian Police is indeed timely to collaborate with international agencies such as Interpol, Traffic International and regional wildlife hubs set up by WWF for Africa and Asia.

“While we must collectively address the threat of poaching, we must also work on saving the natural habitats that harbour our wildlife species. The remaining forests that we have should be retained either as protected areas for wildlife sanctuaries, or forest reserves where harvesting of timber is done in a refined and sustainable manner that allows wildlife to co-exist,” Lim stressed.

“Where our forests are fragmented, wildlife corridors should be established to enable breeding among different population groups to maintain healthy gene pools. Isolated populations inevitably face inbreeding, and in the long-term face extinction. Government needs to formulate the policies and enact regulations, scientists and conservationists to identify the locations, and private sector to set aside land for the restoration of forests into wildlife corridors.

In Peninsular Malaysia the Central Forest Spine Masterplan informs on fragmented forests that need to be connected. Likewise, the Heart of Borneo Initiative in Sabah and Sarawak calls for a corridor project connecting protected areas and forest reserves through sustainable land use.

“We need better policies and stronger legislations to regulate wildlife conservation into land uses that are administered by different agencies according to various laws. On our part, we will continue to work closely with the various government agencies to coordinate implementation efforts on the ground that will hopefully curb the loss of more wildlife,” said Lim.

“Ultimately, ensuring the survival of wildlife is a responsibility that is shared by all. It is only in collective effort that we will be able to keep our wildlife in our forest and our seas.

“Our loss of a beautiful species in Sabah is a sobering reminder that nature is not invincible, and a desperate wake up call to protect other wildlife from suffering the same fate,” she said.

Carcass of last Sumatran rhino to be preserved (Malaysia)

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The Daily Express | November 25, 2019

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KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department (JHL) plans to preserve the carcass of Iman, the last surviving Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, which died on Saturday afternoon, and hand it over to the Sabah Museum.

Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) Director Augustine Tuuga said the carcass is still at the Borneo Rhinoceros Sanctuary in the Tabin Wlidlife Reserve in Lahad Datu. “We will try to preserve (the carcass) and I plan to hand it over to the Sabah Museum,” he said Sunday.

Original photo as published by Daily Express.

Iman was captured in 2014 in the Danum Valley, Lahad Datu and is estimated to be 25 years old. The female rhinoceros’s death at 5.35pm on Saturday was announced by the Sabah Wildlife Department in a statement.

Iman’s death marked the extinction of the species (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Malaysia.

According to Tuuga, she died due growing pressure of a tumour into the bladder

Tuuga said the move to preserve the carcass is for it to be exhibited at the Sabah Museum to provide information to the public on the existence of the species in Malaysia, especially in Sabah.

“We want to make it known that we used to have the species in Malaysia, and it (Iman) was the last,” he added.

He said Iman’s carcass would be preserved like that of Tam’s, the sole surviving male Sumatran rhino, which died last May due to old age and multiple organ failure stemming from kidney and liver damage.

Tuuga said the egg cells, which were harvested from Iman, were still preserved and the department hoped to collaborate with the Indonesian government to provide new rhinoceros sperm to infertilise the eggs through the in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) method.

Last October, the preserved Sumatran male rhinoceros’ carcass was on display at the Sabah Museum in conjunction with the “Head of State and Tam, The Last Male Rhino” exhibition held to celebrate the 66th official birthday of Yang di-Pertua Negeri Sabah Tun Juhar Mahiruddin.

Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino dies, leaving Indonesia as the final refuge

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Basten Gokkon, Mongabay | November 25, 2019

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The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is now extinct in Malaysia following the death of its last captive individual, Iman, over the weekend. The fate of this critically endangered species now rests with a tiny population in Indonesia.

Iman, a female rhino, died on the late afternoon of Nov. 23 at a captive facility in the Malaysian Bornean state of Sabah, according to the local wildlife department.

“Its death was a natural one, and the immediate cause has been categorised as shock,” said Christina Liew, the state environment minister, said as quoted by local media.

Original photo as published by Mongabay: Iman was the last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia. Image courtesy of the Borneo Rhino Alliance. (BORA)

“Iman was given the very best care and attention ever since her capture in March 2014 right up to the moment she passed. No one could have done more,” Liew added.

In her last few days, Iman’s health had deteriorated, according to news reports. She had been battling massive blood loss from a ruptured uterine tumor over the past couple of years, a condition that almost killed her on previous occasions.

“But we knew that she was starting to suffer significant pain from the growing pressure of the tumors into the bladder,” Augustine Tuuga, the director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, said as quoted by local media.

Iman was believed to be 25 years old when she died. She was named after a river near where she was discovered and captured in Sabah’s Danuw Valley for a captive-breeding program.

“You are the 5th Sumatran rhino the world has lost in the past 5 years, and the very last rhino in Malaysia,” the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), a wildlife conservation group deeply involved with Malaysian authorities in caring for the captive rhinos in Sabah, said in a statement. “You were also the sweetest soul, who brought so much joy and hope to all of us.

“We are in so much pain right now, but we are thankful that you are no longer in pain,” it added. “May we be as strong as you in our urgent fight to save your species. May we be as courageous as you to never give up.”

As they did with the previous captive rhinos in Malaysia, all of which died of illness without ever managing to breed in captivity, conservationists have stored cell cultures from Iman. They hope that, when the technology is in place, these cells can be turned into viable embryos and transplanted into a surrogate rhino. They also plan to preserve Iman’s body for exhibition at Sabah Museum, according to the state’s wildlife department.

Conservations had previously attempted to produce rhinos from Iman and Tam, the last male rhino in Malaysia, who died earlier this year from old age. These attempts included natural breeding and assisted reproduction technology. But Iman’s uterine tumor, which was first detected when she was captured, prevented conception. Last month, experts attempted in vitro fertilization of eggs harvested from Iman with Tam’s sperm, but the experiment failed to result in an embryo due to the low quality of the semen.

“There is limited knowledge about Sumatran rhino reproductive physiology and converting cells in a laboratory into viable embryos is complex,” Susie Ellis, the executive director of the International Rhino Foundation, said in a statement. “Still, there is hope for the survival of Sumatran rhinos.”

Conservationists in Malaysia had also hoped to try fertilizing Iman’s eggs with sperm from rhinos held at a captive-breeding site in Indonesia’s Sumatra. And although both countries have in principle agreed to a mutual bilateral partnership — a prospect that Indonesia had ignored for years — no joint breeding programs have yet to materialize.

Indonesia insists that the best option is for Malaysia to send over egg cells for the IVF attempt, and if successful, the embryo can be transplanted into a surrogate rhino in Sumatra.

Liew said Sabah would continue to pursue the partnership with Indonesia despite Iman’s death, as it could include collaborations in management of female Sumatran rhinos with reproductive pathology, safe harvesting of gametes from living rhinos, and cell culture.

Mongabay’s reached out to Indonesia’s environment ministry for comment on Iman’s death and the future of the partnership with Malaysia. The ministry did not respond by the time this article was published.

Iman’s death means there are now no more Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia — either in captivity or in the wild. The country declared in 2015 that the species was extinct in the wild, with only the captive population remaining. Between 1987 and 2014, Malaysia had captured over a dozen wild rhinos.

“The passing of Iman, Malaysia’s last known Sumatran rhino, marks a tragic development for this species,” Jon Paul Rodriguez, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, said in a statement.

“Iman’s death underscores the urgency of the global community’s efforts to save the Sumatran rhino from extinction and we are committed to continuing our work to support the government of Indonesia’s Emergency Action Plan to save this species,” he added.

Indonesia developed the plan in 2017 to capture rhinos and corral them into large, semi-natural breeding and research facilities, modeled on the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Way Kambas National Park, in Sumatra’s Lampung province. The action plan also calls for breeding programs between captive rhinos. Two rhino calves have been born at Way Kambas, both conceived by natural means. Indonesian conservationists also hope to try an IVF attempt using eggs harvested from a lone female at a second SRS facility in Indonesian Borneo. They plan to fertilize it with sperm from one of the males at the Sumatran facility, in a bid to boost the species’ gene pool.

The critically endangered species was decimated by poaching and habitat loss in the past, but today observers say the small and fragmented nature of their populations, and a correspondingly low birthrate, is the biggest threat to their survival. Few of the remaining populations left in the wild are believed to be large enough to support natural reproduction, and isolated individuals have been found to be prone to developing reproductive pathologies like the uterine tumors suffered by Iman.

With no more than 80 Sumatran rhinos left on the planet, the species’ last hope lies in Indonesia. The country has eight individuals in captivity: seven in Sumatra, including the two captive-born calves, and one in Borneo.

Iman’s worsening condition makes it difficult for egg harvesting (Malaysia)

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Mohd Izham Unnip Abdullah & Olivia Miwil, The New Straits Times | November 21, 2019

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KOTA KINABALU: There is a hiccup in a plan to harvest eggs from terminally-ill Sumatran rhinoceros for in-vitro fertilisation to save the species from extinction.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said although the female rhino, Iman, is still producing eggs, her condition could be deteriorating further due to harvesting process.

Original photo as published by New Straits Times: The rhino has been having cancer since she was found in March 2014. Although the tumour is not malignant, it has spread to the urinary bladder. (NSTP/file pic)

The rhino has been having cancer since she was found in March 2014. Although the tumour is not malignant, it has spread to the urinary bladder.

No surgery was made to remove it as it is deemed as dangerous with inevitable major blood loss that would result in her quick demise.

Iman is reported to have lost 44kg and under supplements as she is not eating her normal amount of food now.

“Looking at her worsening state, it is difficult for us to harvest the egg as we fear the procedure will inflict more pain on her.

“As of now, her chance to undergo the process is slim. However, we pray that she will get better under current treatment,” he said when contacted.

Augustine added that it would have to wait for next cycle next month, and hormone therapy will be administered for 25-year-old Iman to produce eggs.

He explained that the hormone meant for egg production would have effects on the tumour.

“Therefore, the team has to find balance in the reproductive and cancer treatment,” he said, adding that the last rhino in the country is now being cared for at Tabin Wildlife reserve in Lahad Datu.

Augustine added that a German expert is ready to be called for the egg harvesting process should Iman’s condition shows any improvement.

There was an attempt to fertilise Iman’s egg two months ago in Sandakan but the sperm quality was poor.

The team had used frozen semen from male rhino Tam, who had died due to old age and organs failure in May this year.

Yesterday, State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew had said the state government is hoping to expedite legality process with Indonesia to fertilise Iman’s egg with the Republic’s male rhino and surrogate female rhino.

Apply ART to save Sumatran rhino – BORA

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The Borneo Post | October 1, 2019

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SANDAKAN: The application of advanced reproductive technology (ART) to endangered wildlife species should be the focus when saving an endangered species so as to avoid the sad tragedy of the Sumatran rhino going extinct in Sabah.

Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) executive director Datuk Dr John Payne said that when people talk about saving a species, they would talk about habitat loss and poaching as the main problems.

Original photo by Borneo Post: Dr John Payne

“Sure, habitat loss and poaching are important factors, but for me, these are background noises. I take Sumatran Rhino as an example; it was critically endangered. With such low number, (the issues of) poaching and habitat loss are not relevant anymore. The priority would be how are we to boost the number of this species, how do we breed more of them; that is where the ART should be applied,” he said.

Payne said this when met at the Seminar on Application of Advanced Reproductive Technology to Endangered Wildlife Species in Southeast Asia, held at Livingston Hotel here, yesterday.

The seminar was participated by some 30 biologists, veterinarians, and officers of Sabah Wildlife Department. It was jointly organized by the Sabah Wildlife Department, BORA, and Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).

The seminar was conducted with the hope of saving other endangered species in Sabah, such as the wild cattle species (seladang), Sunda clouded leopards and Tembadau.

Payne said that in 2015, the Federal Government and State Government played an important role in the effort to save Sumatran Rhinos by introducing a policy, the ART programme for endangered wildlife in Sabah for the 11th Malaysia Plan period, from 2016 to 2020.

ART includes artificial insemination, and In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).

“If we take Sumatran Rhino as an example, the use of ART was crucial because almost all the female Rhinos in captivity (in Indonesia) were found with severe reproductive tract pathology (fibroid) which prevented them from reproducing. So, you could expect the same with all the other endangered species; only ten percent are capable of breeding while the rest are too old, too young or are sick,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga in his opening remarks said that if the goal is to prevent extinction of wildlife species, new approaches are needed.

“The opportunity has existed for many decades to prevent extinction of Sumatran Rhino, through forming a single managed captive propagation programme, with the application of ART to try to help every surviving individual Sumatran rhino to contribute its genome to making more rhinos.

“Sadly, international wildlife and donor institutions have failed to support this thinking. Instead, they repeat the poaching and habitat loss mantra.

“When numbers of any species get to be very low, one of the biggest urgent priorities should be: how to divert the dangerous trajectory away from low and declining numbers, by boosting birth rate,” he said.

Augustine said that a reproductive technology laboratory has recently been completed and equipped at the Faculty of Sustainable Agriculture, Universti Malaysia Sabah, Sandakan.

BORA was appointed to develop and implement the main aspects of the programme from 2016 to 2020.

“To date, much of the work has focused on semen harvest, treatment and cryo-preservation. We are now entering a phase of oocyte harvest, with the view towards in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer. In the mean-time, International Islamic University Malaysia has joined the work to initiate cell cultures of endangered species.

“We hope that this emerging programme will continue after 2020, as a Malaysian programme that happens to be based in Sabah, and with a broadening collaboration of interested experts, regionally and globally,” he said.