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Yayasan Sime Darby: Tam’s Death a Reminder of Urgency to Save Endangered Species

 

The death of Malaysia’s last male Sumatran Rhinoceros should serve as a wake-up call for species conservation.

 
YSD Chief Executive Officer Puan Hajjah Yatela Zainal Abidin, YSD Governing Council Member Ms Caroline Christine Russell and YSD Governing Council Member YBhg. Datin Paduka Zaitoon Dato’ Othman hands over a mock cheque signifying YSD’s continued support of RM1.5 million to Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) Executive Director Ms Sumitra Visvanathan. YSD’s support to WAO is for three years until December 2019.

Tam was found in 2009, igniting hopes for the conservation of the Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia.

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KUALA LUMPUR, 29 May 2019 – The death of Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhinoceros, Kertam or Tam, is a reminder on the urgency to save endangered species from the brink of extinction, said Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) Governing Council Member Caroline Christine Russell.

“The story of how Malaysia has lost the Sumatran rhinoceros to extinction is a reminder that conservation efforts need to be stepped up for other species on the brink of extinction,” she said.

“It is now more urgent than ever to make species conservation front and centre of the national agenda, and to concentrate resources towards saving species like the Malayan elephant, Sunda clouded leopard, Bornean banteng, proboscis monkey, and other threatened species. Conservation efforts of these species are supported by YSD.

“The Malayan tiger faces an extremely high chance of extinction in the wild, and we should focus all efforts towards saving the species before it is too late,” she added.

Caroline said the loss of Tam is deeply felt by the Foundation, as it had supported conservation efforts of the Sumatran rhinoceros for close to a decade.

YSD had worked with the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) and the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) to save the Sumatran rhinoceros in Sabah from 2009 to February 2017, with a total allocation of RM15.7 million. 

The funds were channelled towards the care and facilities provided for the welfare of the precious animals. Funding was also channeled towards the breeding programme, which included artificial reproductive technology (ART) to help breed the Sumatran rhinoceros.   

YSD’s funding to the programme ceased when the Federal Government announced an allocation of RM11.9 million towards the breeding programme.   

“I first met Tam in 2009, together with the blind female Sumatran rhinoceros Gelugob, when YSD had first committed to support conservation efforts to save the species from extinction. We were also involved in the rescue and relocation of two females, Puntung and Iman, to the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. We were so committed towards the welfare and care of all four Sumatran rhinos, while the breeding programme was being conducted. We felt such a close connection to all of them, so much so that losing any one of them is like losing a very dear friend,” Caroline said.

“The conservation of the Sumatran rhinoceros was a cause close to our hearts, and we only took a step back when the federal government stepped in with funds to conserve the species. However, we have never stopped monitoring the situation.

“It was a race against time to save the species that was in the twilight of existence and we spared no efforts to continuously look for ways to save the species. There were many setbacks along the way, but we had harboured hope that the efforts to collect oocytes from the rhinos, and an effective collaboration with Indonesia would make a difference in the species’ conservation,” she added.

She said international experts were also dedicated to the cause, with several experts from Europe and United States periodically flying in to Sabah, some with YSD support, and provided critical contribution towards the rhino breeding programme, she added.

Many of these global experts and stakeholders converged at the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit in Singapore in 2013 to review existing conservation strategies, identify key actions and develop a new global conservation plan to prevent the species’ extinction.

“The emotions of those in attendance during the summit were palpable as they knew that the situation was at a critical juncture and that they may lose the battle to save the species if effective actions were not taken early enough, and more challenges emerged. However, they carried on and worked tirelessly to draw up plans and strategies towards the conservation of the species,” she said.

“We would like to thank all of them for their tireless commitment towards trying to save the species. We would especially like to thank Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) team, headed by Executive Director Dr John Payne, as well as BORA veterinarian Dr Zainal Zainuddin who has been ardently caring for Tam and the other rhinos in the sanctuary,” she added.

Sadly, Gelugob passed away in January 2014 due to old age. She was moved out of the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park the year before, to serve as an ambassador for Sumatran rhino conservation efforts.

Two years ago, one of the last two female Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia, Puntung, passed away after being euthanised, following her rapid deterioration due to a squamous cell carcinoma in her left cheek.

Tun Musa Hitam, who was YSD Chairman at the time, said Puntung’s death should serve as a lesson for all, saying stakeholders involved in conserving the species should reflect on the situation facing the Sumatran rhinoceros.

Currently, the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary is caring for Malaysia’s last remaining Sumatran rhino – Iman.

Since 2009, YSD has committed RM140.2 million towards the protection of high conservation value ecosystems, vulnerable and endangered species as well as initiatives promoting the preservation of the environment and biodiversity.


 
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Last Updated:
30 May 2019
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