Rhino Puntung dying of cancer, SWD has authorised euthanasia

KOTA KINABALU: Puntung, the Sumatran female rhinoceros, that attracted global attention last month for enduring dental surgery by a multinational team at Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu, is dying of squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.

Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director, Augustine Tuuga said the swelling on Puntung’s left cheek that led to the detection of an infected tooth root had worsened and two biopsies carried out post-surgery revealed the rhino was suffering from the skin cancer.

"The cancer has been spreading rapidly over the past few weeks. Specialists from several countries concur that it will be fatal with or without treatment.

"As of today, Puntung can no longer breathe through her left nostril, she can no longer vocalise, she is in pain and her condition is declining fast.

"Other than administering painkillers, there is nothing more anyone can do and we are left with no other recourse except to agree with professional medical advice and accordingly, we have authorised euthanasia,” he said in a statement here today, adding that SWD planned to euthanise Puntung on June 15.

Tuuga admitted that to put her to sleep forever was a difficult decision to make, but specialists agreed it was the best move rather than prolonging the rhino’s pain and suffering.

Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) executive director, Datuk Dr Junaidi Payne said those who had been involved in Puntung’s life over the past 10 years, including Bora, were devastated with the news.

He said those involved in her welfare included a non-profit international foundation dedicated to preserving rhinos from extinction, SOS Rhino, which monitored Puntung while in the Tabin forest since 2007, those who captured her in 2011, and those who cared for Puntung daily.

"We thank the many people, both in Malaysia and overseas, who heartened us with their good wishes in April and financial support for the dental surgery and follow-up work.

"We would like to record our profound thanks to Sime Darby Foundation, which not only covered the costs of monitoring, capturing, translocating and caring for Puntung since 2009, but whose council members and officers have maintained a constant personal interest in her welfare and progress,” he said.

Payne also said that Bora staff, who had Puntung under intensive care over the past two months, were shocked by the very visible rapid growth in the size of the carcinoma.

"We have kept in close touch with experts in Europe, South Africa and Thailand, and there is no doubt in our minds that any form of conventional treatment would just prolong her agony,” he added.

Payne said Bora was now making preparations to try to recover eggs or oocytes from Puntung, which is estimated to be around 25 years of age.

"With that, she may yet be able to contribute to the survival of her species,” he said. — Bernama