Indonesia agrees to provide near extinct Sumatran Rhino semen samples

This photo taken on November 5, 2015 shows Sumatran rhino ‘Harapan’ at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia. Indonesia has finally agreed to send Malaysian conservationists Sumatran rhino semen samples to perform artificial insemination. – EPA pic, January 26, 2018.

MALAYSIA’S prayers to avert the extinction of the Bornean Sumatran Rhinoceros has finally been answered after Indonesia agreed to send semen samples for the use of the country’s breeding programme.

The news was confirmed by Sabah Wildlife director Augustine Tuuga, who said, however, that the arrangement still awaits a pact between the Malaysian and Indonesian governments before the samples can arrive on Malaysian soil.

Malaysia’s only surviving female Sumatran rhino is Iman, presently kept in captivity at Sabah’s Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu.

“Of course, we are very happy with the decision of the Indonesian government to send samples to Malaysia for the Advanced Reproductive Technology programme,” he said, verifying a report published by Mongabay.

The Sabah government had since 2015 sought help from Indonesia to provide Sumatran rhinoceros semen samples to artificially inseminate its remaining female captive rhinos but this was repeatedly rejected.  

In June last year, the Sabah wildlife department had to put to sleep the other female rhino, Puntung, who was suffering from skin cancer, leaving only Iman the only last surviving female rhinoceros in the country.

Iman, too, is battling cancer in her uterus but her caretakers said her conditions are slowly improving.

According to Tuuga, Indonesia finally agreed to the request following an agreement between experts from both nations during a technical expert meeting held in Jakarta, Indonesia from October 18 to 20, last year.  

He said both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments are expected to sign a pact soon to allow for the establishment a joint working group and implementation of the effort.

Sabah’s Sumatran rhino population has been decimated due to habitat loss and inbreeding due to the fragmented stomping grounds.

According to the Mongabay report, the sperm from Andalas, a captive-bred rhino at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia, would be combined with viable eggs from Iman, to produce an embryo.
The embryo then would then be implanted into one of the females back at the Indonesian sanctuary. The fertilization would preferably happen in Malaysia because frozen semen travels better than eggs.

If successful, the programme will increase the genetic diversity of the Sumatran rhinos as Iman comes from a population in Borneo that were disconnected from the populations of Sumatra thousands of years ago, the report added.

However, none of the the offspring will be released in Sabah’s wild as Malaysia has agreed to let Indonesia keep the animal if the programme was successful. – January 26, 2018.

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