Need to save Sumatran rhinos intensifies

KOTA KINABALU, Sabah - The pressure to save the remaining endangered Sumatran rhinos has grown more intense following the death of Gelugob - one of only 10 Sumatran rhinoceros in captivity worldwide.

Gelugob died on Saturday at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park here.

Sabah Wildlife Department veterinarian Dr Rosa Sipangkui said Gelugob's age was estimated at 37 years. There are probably less than 150 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild today in Sumatra and Borneo.

Sipangkui said Gelugob's health had deteriorated rapidly from early this month and the animal had refused to drink and ate little.

Department director Datuk Laurentius Ambu said conservationists were now even more determined to save rhinos from extinction.

"Sabah now seems to be the only state in Malaysia that has wild rhinos," he said.

"Rhino numbers are too low and the wild rhinos too fragmented.

"If we do not intervene and rescue all of them and consolidate them into a managed breeding programme, propagation of new generations of baby rhinos will be impossible," Laurentius said.

He said that without the managed breeding programme, all the remaining rhinos would meet the same fate as Gelugob, growing old and dying without producing any more young rhinos, thus causing extinction of this species in Sabah.

Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said Gelugob was believed to be the oldest rhino in captivity prior to her death.

The last Sumatran rhino to die in captivity was a 33-year-old male in the Cincinnati Zoo in the United States.

He said Gelugob was rescued from Bulud Napa, Kinabatangan in 1994 and her age at the time of capture was estimated at around 16 to 17 years.

Gelugob was immediately included into the Sumatran rhino captive programme, which was then located in Sepilok near Sandakan, he said.

For the following 19 years, local and foreign experts from around the world tried to breed and study her reproductive behaviour extensively, until 2011 when she was found to be unable to produce eggs, even with hormone treatment, due to her old age, Sen added.

Gelugob was brought to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park from the Tabin Wildlife Reserve on March 24 last year as an ambassador for Sumatran rhino conservation efforts.