The last male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia has died from old age following a stint in intensive care that started on May 19. Named Tam, the rhino was first discovered on an oil palm plantation back in 2008, captured, and transferred to Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Attempts to breed him with two female rhinos were unsuccessful, and with Tam’s death, one of those females, named Iman, is the country’s last remaining Sumatran rhino.
Thanks to decades of habitat loss and poaching, there are fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos in the world. Most live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Their scarcity is exacerbating the threat of extinction as it’s difficult to find partners to mate. If females go too long without mating, they can develop cysts and fibrosis in their reproductive tracts.
“Tam’s death underscores how critically important the collaborative efforts driving the Sumatran Rhino Rescue project are,” Margaret Kinnaird, wildlife practice leader for WWF International, told National Geographic. “We hung so much hope on Tam to produce offspring in captivity, but that hope was dashed when the remaining two females at Tabin were unable to carry fetuses.”
While he wasn’t able to reproduce, Tam did help researchers better understand the species. The fight for the species’ survival continues, and there’s still hope. Groups like the Sumatran Rhino Rescue aim to capture as many wild rhinos as possible to facilitate captive breeding. Late last year, the Sumatran Rhino Rescue added a reproductive-healthy female rhino named Pahu to a breeding facility in Borneo. She was even given a special police escort.