Malaysia and Indonesia Meet on Sumatran Rhino Collaborative Effort

Jun 14, 2019

Tam the last male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, who passed away in late May, according to his caretakers the Borneo Rhino Alliance. Less than a month later, Indonesian and Malaysian officials have begun reviving long-planned, but stalled, collaborative efforts to save the critically endangered species found only in their two countries.
Credit Borneo Rhino Alliance

It took one of the last animals of its kind passing away to bring together the two Asia Pacific countries where these critically endangered animals live, but this week, it appeared that the potential for cooperation may become a reality.

This week in Malaysia, a rare gathering took place that conservationists have been hoping for. Members of the governments from Malaysia and Indonesia met to discuss collaborative efforts to save the Sumatran rhinoceros, one of the rarest living creatures on earth, with less than 80 animals believed to be alive. Today just a few survive in isolated pockets in Indonesia. Eight of the vocal, furry forest-dwelling rhinos live in captivity there; wild Sumatran rhinos are believed to be extinct in Malaysia, where the last male in custody, Tam, passed away in May, leaving a sole female, Iman, in captivity there.

The last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, Iman, enjoys a snack in her compound at the Borneo Rhino Alliance facility in Malaysian Borneo.
Credit Borneo Rhino Alliance

Malaysian officials have for years tried to form a cooperative plan to share genetic resources. But Indonesian conservation agencies have resisted. However, news sources report a critical meeting between the countries took place this past Tuesday in Malaysia, where a long-worked on draft memorandum of understanding was discussed in detail. Free Malaysia Today reported that representatives from the Malaysian state tourism, culture and environment ministry, the Indonesian Consulate General in Malaysia, the Borneo Rhino Alliance, and the WWF-Malaysia discussed the assisted reproductive technology project, based on shared reproductive tissues.

Now, a Malaysian delegation will head to Indonesia in July for further talks. The Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Christina Liew said they would fine-tune the memo of understanding to ensure there are “no disputes in future implementation of its provisions.” The New Straits Times reported a decade of similar negotiations has failed to bring the counties together. “We will also further define the arrangements for shared ownership of the Sumatran rhinos born or produced in captive breeding in Indonesia,” Minister Liew said.

The last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, Iman, relaxes in her mud wallow, under the care of the Borneo Rhino Alliance.
Credit Borneo Rhino Alliance

The news sources reported that the condition of Iman, the last Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, has deteriorated. The Borneo Rhino Alliance team explained the ways reproductive materials from Iman, as well as materials saved from Tam and another rhino that passed, Puntung, can be invaluable in the effort.

Sumatran rhino Puntung, who passed away in 2017. She was one of the last of her species in Malaysia.

Our previous Helping Hand guest Dr. John Payne of the Borneo Rhino Alliance was there. The Borneo Post reported the WWF-Malaysia plans to financially support the undertaking. Learn more about these very special animals and hear an extended interview with Dr. Payne in the Borneo Rhino Alliance Helping Hand segment from last year, and learn more in other posts about Sumatran rhinos.

This is a National Geographic video about efforts to save the Sumatran rhino that features the rhinos of the Borneo Rhino Alliance: