Wildlife officials in Malaysia announced that Tam, the last remaining male Sumatran rhinoceros in the country, has died after suffering from kidney and liver problems.
Augustine Tuuga, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, told local reporters that Tam's condition had been declining since last month. The animal had seemingly lost his appetite and his alertness was not as sharp as before.
Urine tests later revealed that the Sumatran rhino's kidneys were in bad shape. His other organs were also showing signs of failure.
While officials have yet to determine what exactly caused Tam's health to deteriorate rapidly, it is believed that it might have been because of the animal's old age.
Tuuga said Tam may have already been in his thirties, and Sumatran rhinos typically only have 35 to 40 years of life expectancy.
Animal conservationists are saddened by Tam's passing, especially after Sumatran rhinos were declared a critically endangered species. In fact, the animals are already extinct in Malaysia's wilderness. Iman, Tam's supposed mating partner, is the only one left of their kind in the country.
Most of the remaining Sumatran rhinos in Southeast Asia can be found in Indonesia.
"Tam's death underscores how critically important the collaborative efforts driving the Sumatran Rhino Rescue project are," said Margaret Kinnaird, wildlife practice leader for the World Wildlife Fund.
"We've got to capture those remaining, isolated rhinos in Kalimantan and Sumatra and do our best to encourage them to make babies."
The Last Male Sumatran Rhino In Malaysia
Before his passing, Tam had been living at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in the state of Sabah. He was brought there after he was rescued from an oil palm plantation in 2008.
With Sumatran rhinos facing near-extinction in the wild, animals experts tried to have Tam mate with two females-Puntung and Iman-to produce new rhinos. However, both attempts at producing an offspring failed.
"We hung so much hope on Tam to produce offspring in captivity, but that hope was dashed when the remaining two females at Tabin were unable to carry fetuses," Kinnaird noted.
Tam may not have been able to produce new Sumatran rhinos, but his presence even in captivity helped researchers learn more about the endangered species.
Susie Ellis, executive director of Texas-based International Rhino Foundation, noted how the Borneo Rhino Alliance helped advance understanding regarding the Sumatran rhinos' biology through the group's work on reproductive techniques.
She stressed that people need to understand how precarious the animals' survival is, adding that Tam's death represents nearly 1 percent of the total population of the species in the world.
Efforts To Save Sumatran Rhinos
Kinnaird said Tam's death should serve as a wake-up call to find more Sumatran rhinos in the wild. The WWF has been coordinating with other conservation groups to help save the animals, as part of the Sumatran Rhino Rescue coalition.
In 2018, the coalition successfully rescued a new female rhino, which was later named Pahu. She was taken to a breeding facility in the Indonesian town of Kelian Lestari.
Researchers said Pahu appears to be in good health to reproduce. The animal is reportedly thriving in her new habitat and may soon have company at the facility.
Kinnaird believes they may be able to find more rhinos in the wilderness of Kalimantan in Indonesia, given the positive results of their recent surveys in the area.
Meanwhile, Ellis said they need to focus on saving the remaining 80 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild by conducting intensive protection and captive breeding. They also plan to work with locals to help protect the animals.
She described their conservation effort as a battle that they cannot afford to lose.