ERP, Saving The Survivors Travels To Borneo To Save Endangered Sumatran Rhino

Wildlife officials and rhino conservationists breathed a big sigh of relief after successful surgery on Puntung, one of only two female Sumatran rhinos still alive in Malaysia.  Puntung had been suffering since mid March from a tooth abscess that would not heal despite treatment.  She started losing weight and her appetite waned with every week.   

Dr Johan Marais and Dr Zoe Glyphis of South Africa based "ERP, Saving the Survivors", initiated the planning, advised on procedures and provided major financial support to ensure that an international team got together in Tabin Wildlife Resreve in Borneo. There were several local vets in attendance as well as vets from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo Rhino Alliance.  Dr Abraham Mathew, senior veterinarian from Singapore zoo assisted with the anaesthesia. Dr Zoë Glyphis also organized a Thai veterinary dentist, Dr Tum Chinkangsadarn, which assisted with extracting three molar teeth from Puntung's left upper jaw during an operation that in total lasted two hours and twenty minutes on the morning of 19 April. "This was a remarkable and successful operation that came about as a result of global discussion and multi-national collaboration over the past two weeks" said Sabah Wildlife Department Director Mr Augustine Tuuga.  Sabah thanks Saving the Survivors and the team who had not worked together before but who did a fantastic job.

The procedure started at 7 am with X-rays done under sedation, that were flown in together with ERP, Saving the Survivors.  Radiographs were critical to identify the affected teeth.  Puntung was then put under general anesthesia for 110 minutes and the three offending teeth were removed.  Borneo Rhino Alliance veterinarian Dr Zainal Z Zainuddin said "We are so relieved and very grateful to Dr Tum, "ERP, Saving the Survivors, a member of groupelephant.com and the specialist vets who have given Puntung a new lease of life.

Incredibly, she started feeding within two hours of the operation ending. But we are not done yet. There will be a period of post operation care which will mean trying to keep Puntung clean, stress-free and under medication including for pain relief."

On Sunday 23 April the feedback from the local vet was that she is feeding well, and that the swelling is busy subsiding.  Great teamwork from an international delegation of veterinarians to save a critically endangered specie…!

The Sumatran rhinoceros, also known as the hairy rhinoceros or Asian two-horned rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), is a rare member of the family Rhinocerotidae and one of five extant rhinoceroses.  It is the smallest rhinoceros, although it is still a large mammal.  The weight is reported to range from 500 to 1,000 kg (1,100 to 2,200 lb), averaging 700–800 kg.  Like both African species, it has two horns; the larger is the nasal horn, typically 15–25 cm (5.9–9.8 in), while the other horn is typically a stub. A coat of reddish-brown hair covers most of the Sumatran rhino's body.

Members of the species once inhabited rainforests, swamps, and cloud forests in India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. They are now critically endangered, with only five substantial populations in the wild: four on Sumatra and one on Borneo. Their numbers are difficult to determine because they are solitary animals that are widely scattered across their range, but they are estimated to number fewer than 60.  Survival of the Peninsular Malaysia population is in doubt, and one of the Sumatran populations may already be extinct.

The Sumatran rhino is a mostly solitary animal except for courtship and offspring-rearing. It is the most vocal rhino species and also communicates through marking soil with its feet, twisting saplings into patterns, and leaving excrement. 

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Christelle Pretorius