December 27, 2011
Rhino saved in dramatic rescue
By MUGUNTAN VANAR
KOTA KINABALU: A dramatic helicopter rescue of a young and rare female Sumatran
rhinoceros on Christmas Day has boosted hopes for the survival of the species that is facing extinction.
Sabah wildlife department director Dr Laurentius Ambu described the helicopter
airlift of the rhino as a world’s first in a tropical rainforest.
The rhino, aged between 10 and 12 years and named Puntung, was first caught on Dec
18 in a joint operation by the department and the Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora).
Safe and sound : Puntung wallowing in her temporary enclosure at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu.
It was kept within a temporary enclosure at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve and placed
in a crate on Christmas eve for relocation to the nearby Borneo Rhino Sanctuary, also within the reserve. However,
rains and foggy conditions delayed the airlift.
“It was only on Christmas morning that the fog cleared temporarily and gave us a
window to let the helicopter lower its cables to hook up the crate,” said Dr Ambu.
With an estimated 20 to 30 rhinos left in the wilds of Sabah, the capture and
trans-location of Puntung gives conservationists another shot at breeding the species in captivity. It is hoped
Puntung would mate with a lone captive male rhino, named Tam.
Dr Ambu said the conservation programme here is in touch with a similar programme
Special mission: A helicopter lifting the crate of the rhino from the Tabin
Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu on Christmas Day.
“This is now the very last chance to save this species, one of the most ancient forms
of mammal. We need collaboration and support in our efforts to prevent the extinction of this unique species that
was once found in abundance,” he added.
Meanwhile, department chief veterinarian Dr Sen Nathan said they hoped to get
Puntung to mate with Tam, a middle aged male rhino, which was rescued in 2008 and placed at the rhino
“Attempts to get Tam to mate with another rescued female rhino, named Gelegup,
failed as she was old and infertile,” he said, adding that Puntung looked healthy enough for breeding.
“We captured Puntung because, after two years of observation, we found that there
were no male rhinos in the vicinity and it was unlikely for it to find a mate within its natural surrounding,” Dr
“From camera trap observations, Puntung also had old injuries on its front left
limb, giving more reason for her capture.”
Bora executive director Dr Junaidi Payne said Puntung was doing reasonably
“It was trapped, kept in an enclosure for a while and then airlifted in a noisy
helicopter. It suffered some minor abrasion and is being treated with antiseptics.
“She is allowing people to handle her now and is drinking and eating well,” Dr
He said the helicopter used in the rhino rescue, operated by American company
Erickson Air Crane that has an office in Miri, was brought in for the airlift at a cost of US$70,000 (about
Yayasan Sime Darby has provided large financial support for Bora’s efforts to save
the rhinos while Malaysian Palm Oil Industries Council was also aiding the wildlife department’s rescue
Since 1996, the Sumatran rhino has been listed as “critically endangered”, which
is just a step away from being extinct in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red