Update on effort to save Iman the Sumatran rhino in Malaysia

Jan 3, 2018

Credit Screenshot of Borneo Rhino Alliance video on Youtube

Today on All Things Considered we have an update to an Asia Pacific story we’ve followed for several weeks about one of the rarest animals on earth: the Sumatran rhino, a species that dates back millions of years, with just nine in captivity, and a few dozen hoped to exist in the wild. Since mid-December, one of only two Sumatran rhinos left in Malaysia has made news as she faces a health crisis, and while there had been some signs of hope in the run-up to Christmas, the news became eerily quiet, until today.

In Malaysia’s Tabin Wildlife Reserve, in Malaysian Borneo, Iman the Sumatran Rhino continues to fight for her life. We’ve been following her story since news broke last month that the reclusive rhino, wild caught in 2014, had serious bleeding from a uterine tumor. Her caretakers were desperate to get her out of her mud wallow --where she’d dodged food, water and medicine -- and into night quarters where she could be treated. She’d evaded assistance in her mud wallow until shortly before Christmas, when they coaxed her into her night quarters, where they’ve kept her since. The team got her eating and drinking fluids, though not nearly her typical amount. She was also placed on an IV,  while given medications to try and stop the bleeding, and increase her appetite.

An archival shot of Iman sitting in her favorite place, her mud wallow, at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Malaysia.
Credit Borneo Rhino Alliance

But today Director Augustine Tuuga of the Sabah Wildlife Department had sobering words in a statement Free Malaysia Today reported. Tuuga said there is a procedure that could be done to stop the bleeding of her uterine tumor, but there aren’t any available experts who could do it. Iman is the last female Sumatran Rhino in Malaysia; one male remains at a facility supported by the nonprofit Borneo Rhino Alliance that had been intended to house several.

“Iman’s most recent bleeding is severe, possibly from the detached smooth muscle tumor inside her uterus,” Tuuga said in a statement. He said that previously when she was in trouble, a type of acid would help clot the blood and stop the bleeding, which worked three previous times. But this time, he said, “The main problem is that, with the massive bleeding in the uterus, cauterizing the bleeders might be the only way to stop it. However, no known experts are available to do the procedure” and he indicated there was a serious risk to her health of putting her under anesthesia. Iman’s latest health drama started December 14. Tuuga said she is only eating 40 to 50% of her usual amount of food, about 12 to 17 kilograms daily, including fruits like bananas and mangos, which are used to hide medicine.

The bottom line for Iman is that the situation is dire. After losing a female named Puntung last year at the site, Iman was the last hope for Malaysia’s effort to revive the Sumatran rhino. Male Sumatran rhino Tam joins her as the only two Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia. If she passes, all eyes will turn to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia; seven live there in captivity, including two born there, a male and female, with the help of groundbreaking research and experts at the Cincinnati Zoo. HPR previously reported on both the move of Harapan the Sumatran rhino from Cincinnati and the birth of Delilah, one of the two born in Indonesia as a result of the work of Dr. Terri Roth at the Cincinnati Zoo.

For now, Tuuga said Iman stands several times a day, gazing through the grill of her door out toward her mud wallow. She is packed in mud twice a day inside her paddock, but life outside the mud wallow has come at a price. “All her footpads or soles are detaching since she came into the night stall on Dec 18,” Tuuga said in his statement today. He said her feet are treated multiple times each day, and as new soles harden, detached footpads are removed. The wildlife director summed up Iman’s status, and unfortunately it’s what many animal lovers don’t want to hear: “It’s hard to say definitely if she will pull through if the bleeding is not stopped soon.”