25-year-old fe­male rhino suf­fers from deadly squa­mous cell skin cancer

New Straits Times - - News -


THE days are num­bered for Puntung, one of three re­main­ing Su­ma­tran rhi­nos in Malaysia. The 25-year-old fe­male rhino will be put down to end its suf­fer­ing from the deadly squa­mous cell skin cancer.

The cancer spread rapidly over the past few weeks, even after surgery last month. As of now, Puntung could no longer breathe through her left nos­tril and could no longer vo­calise.

Sabah Wildlife Depart­ment di­rec­tor Au­gus­tine Tu­uga said the depart­ment had au­tho­rised euthana­sia as it was left with no other op­tions.

He said the euthana­sia would be con­ducted be­fore June 15.

“This is a very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to make, but spe­cial­ists agree that this is the best way out of a very small num­ber of un­pleas­ant choices,” said Tu­uga.

“There is a sug­ges­tion to do chemo­ther­apy, but ex­perts agree that it will not help… Spe­cial­ists from sev­eral coun­tries have con­curred that the cancer will be fa­tal, with or with­out treat­ment.

“She is in pain and her con­di­tion is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. Apart from ad­min­is­ter­ing painkillers, there is noth­ing more any­one can do.”

Puntung, on April 19, un­der­went an op­er­a­tion to ex­tract two mo­lars and a pre­mo­lar from the up­per left side of her jaw, which had caused se­vere ab­scess.

The surgery was per­formed by vet­eri­nary den­tist Dr Tum Chinkangsadarn from Thai­land, who found that the source of the ab­scess was an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of bac­te­ria on the se­verely cal­ci­fied mo­lars.

The cal­ci­fi­ca­tion also loos­ened two ad­ja­cent teeth.

“After the surgery, the swelling pro­gressed, and two sub­se­quent biop­sies re­vealed squa­mous cell car­ci­noma,” he ex­plained.

Sabah is home to three out of the last few crit­i­cally-en­dan­gered Su­ma­tran rhi­nos. The re­main­ing an­i­mals are in In­done­sia.

Puntung, along with an­other fe­male rhino called Iman and male rhino Ker­tam, is be­ing cared by non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion Bor­neo Rhino Al­liance (Bora) at the Bor­neo Rhino Sanc­tu­ary in the Tabin Wildlife Re­serve, La­had Datu.

Puntung was cap­tured in 2011 after be­ing mon­i­tored in the wild for two years. It was sub­se­quently es­tab­lished that she was the last re­main­ing wild rhino in the re­serve.

The loss of Puntung would prove to be cat­a­strophic to the fu­ture of the species as she still has a few years of egg pro­duc­tion left to be used for in-vitro fer­til­i­sa­tion.

On the pos­si­bil­ity of a pro­ce­dure be­ing done to ex­tract Puntung’s eggs, Tu­uga said the depart­ment would seek for ex­perts’ as­sis­tance.

Bora ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Dr John Payne said the rhino’s con­di­tion was dev­as­tat­ing for those who had been in­volved in Puntung’s life over the past 10 years.

“Bora staff who have had Puntung un­der in­ten­sive care over the past two months are shocked by the rapid growth of car­ci­noma (cell skin cancer).

“We have kept in close touch with ex­perts in Europe, South Africa and Thai­land.

“There is no doubt that any form of con­ven­tional treat­ment will just pro­long her agony.

“We are also mak­ing prepa­ra­tions to re­cover eggs, or oocytes, from Puntung. With that, she may be able to con­trib­ute to the sur­vival of her species,” he said.

Payne ex­tended his grat­i­tude to the peo­ple, both in Malaysia and abroad, for their fi­nan­cial sup­port to Bora to en­able it to con­duct den­tal surgery and fol­low-up treat­ment for Puntung.

He also thanked Sime Darby Foun­da­tion coun­cil mem­bers and of­fi­cers, who main­tained an in­ter­est in Puntung’s wel­fare and progress.

Sime Darby Foun­da­tion had been as­sist­ing Bora in cov­er­ing the costs of mon­i­tor­ing, cap­tur­ing, translo­cat­ing and car­ing of Puntung since 2009.


Puntung was cap­tured in 2011 after be­ing mon­i­tored in the wild for two years.

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