Dental Operation By ‘International Team’ Saves Puntung From Ailment

Puntung being prepared for her dental operation Wednesday morning. – Photo credits Sabah Wildlife Department
Augustine Tuuga

KOTA KINABALU: Global discussion and multi-national collaboration among veterinarians over the past two weeks was probably what saved an ailing Puntung – one of only two female Sumatran rhinos still alive in Malaysia.

On Wednesday morning, underwent an operation that lasted two hours and twenty minutes, during which, Thai veterinary dentist, Dr Tum Chinkangsadarn extracted two molar teeth and one premolar from Puntung’s left upper jaw.

The defective molars and pre molar that were removed by Dr Tum a Thai dental veterinarian.

“This was a remarkable and successful operation that came about as a result of global discussion and multi-national collaboration,” said Sabah Wildlife Department Director Augustine Tuuga.

“We had veterinarians in attendance and assisting from my department as well as Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo Rhino Alliance,” he said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Puntung having her first feed at 3 pm; no more chewing on the left side.

Borneo Rhino Alliance veterinarian Dr Zainal Z Zainuddin in the same statement expressed gratefulness to all those involved in the ‘Save Punting’ campaign, disclosing “incredibly, she started feeding within two hours of the operation ending.”

Dr Zainal said the ordeal is not quite over yet.

“There will be a period of post-operation care which will mean trying to keep Puntung clean, stress-free and under medication including for pain relief,” he added.

Puntung had been suffering since mid-March from an abscess that would not heal despite treatment.


The procedure started at 7 am with X-rays done under sedation.

Then Puntung was put under general anaesthesia for 110 minutes. Dr Tum noted severe calcification of one large molar, which is where bacteria initially accumulated and led to the abscess. The calcification had also loosened two adjacent teeth.

Tuuga later said that they are relieved and very grateful to Dr Tum, “Saving the Survivors” and the specialist vets who have given Puntung a new lease of life.

“Sabah thanks Dr Tum and the team who had not worked together before but who did a fantastic job,” Tuuga added.

“Dr Abraham Mathew, senior veterinarian from Singapore zoo helped with anaesthesia. Dr Johan Marais and Dr Zoe Glyphis of South Africa-based “Saving the Survivors” initiated the planning, advised on procedures and provided major financial support to ensure that the team got together in Tabin.”