PUNTUNG TO BE EUTHANISED
25-year-old female rhino suffers from deadly squamous cell skin cancer
AVILA GERALDINE KOTA KINABALU firstname.lastname@example.org
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.