According to Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) Director Augustine Tuuga, Puntung is suffering from squamous cell cancer that left the female rhinoceros in pain, unable to vocalise, and unable to breathe through its left nostril.
“It turns out that the swelling on Puntung’s left cheek that alerted us to the infected tooth root had a more serious origin.
“After the surgery, the swelling progressed and two subsequent biopsies revealed squamous cell carcinoma,” he said in a statement.
According to Tuuga, the cancer has been spreading rapidly over the recent weeks and specialists have agreed that the cancer would be fatal, with or without treatment.
“We are left with no other recourse except to agree with professional medical advice and accordingly, we have authorised euthanasia.
“This is a very difficult decision to make, but the specialists agreed that on balance, this is the best out of a very small number of unpleasant choices,” he said.
Puntung, a 25-year-old rhino, suffered from an abscess that would not heal despite treatment since mid-March.
Last month, veterinarians assisted Puntung in extracting two molars and one premolar from its left upper jaw in bid to heal the abscess.
Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) executive director Dr John Payne expressed condolences and shock towards Puntung’s condition.
“This is devastating news for all of those who have been involved in Puntung’s life over the past ten years.
“Bora staff who have had Puntung under intensive care over the past two months have been shocked by the very visible rapid growth in the size of the carcinoma,” said Payne in a statement.
Payne also said that his team is currently making the necessary preparations to preserve Puntung’s oocytes (eggs).
“With that, she may yet be able to contribute to the survival of her species.”
Puntung was captured in 2011 and is now being kept at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu, with one other female and a male Sumatran rhino. The sanctuary is managed by the non-governmental organisation Borneo Rhino Alliance contracted by the SWD.
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