By Siew Te Wong
KOTA KINABALU: Conservationists in Sabah are feeling more pressure to save the remaining endangered Sumatran rhinos following the death of one of the creatures in captivity, here.
Gelugob, one of only 10 Sumatran rhinoceros in captivity worldwide, died on Jan 11 at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.
Sabah Wildlife Department veterinarian Dr Rosa Sipangkui said Gelugob’s age was about 37 years. There were probably less that 150 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild today, in Sumatra and Borneo, he said.
Sipangkui said Gelugob’s health had deteriorated rapidly since early January and it 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 added.
He said if this managed breeding programme was not done, then all the remaining rhinos would meet the same fate as Gelugob; growing old and dying without producing any more young rhinos, resulting in the 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 Cincinnati Zoo in the United States.
He said Gelugob was rescued from Bulud Napa, Kinabatangan in 1994. “Gelugob was immediately included into our 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.
On March 24 last year, Gelugob was brought to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park from the Tabin Wildlife Reserve as an ambassador for Sumatran rhino conservation efforts.