Puntung, The Sumatran Rhino, Dying Of Cancer; Eggs Being Recovered

Puntung, in a photo taken on Saturday. Her life could be ended on June 15. – Photo credit Sabah Wildlife Department

KOTA KINABALU: Puntung, one of the remaining three Sumatran rhinos in Sabah, is dying on cancer.

She may be put down on June 15 to spare her the agony of suffering as there is nothing more anyone can do to spare her life.

Efforts are now being made to try to recover eggs or oocytes from Puntung, and with that, she may yet be able to contribute to the survival of her species.


Sabah Wildlife Department Director, Augustine Tuuga disclosed the terse news in a statement on Sunday morning.

“It turns out that the swelling on Puntung’s left cheek that alerted us to the infected tooth root had a more serious origin,” he disclosed.

“After the surgery, the swelling progressed, and two subsequent biopsies revealed squamous cell carcinoma. The cancer has been spreading rapidly over the past few weeks. Specialists from several countries concur that it will be fatal, with or without treatment.

“As of today, Puntung can no longer breathe through her left nostril, she can no longer vocalise, she is in pain and her condition is declining fast. Other than administering painkillers, there is nothing more anyone can do.

“We are left with no other recourse except to agree with professional medical advice and accordingly we have authorized euthanasia.”

Tuuga conceded that this was a very difficult decision to make, but added the specialists agree that on balance this is the best out of a very small number of unpleasant choices.


Puntung attracted global attention in April 2017 through dental surgery performed by a multinational team in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. She was later found to have squamous cell cancer.

In the same statement, Dr John Payne, executive director of Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), said it was devastating news indeed 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,” he said.

“We have kept in close touch with experts in Europe, South Africa and Thailand, and there is no doubt in our minds that any form of conventional treatment would just prolong her agony.

Payne said it was especially sad for those in SOS Rhino who monitored her wild in the Tabin forests since 2007, those who captured her in 2011, to those who cared for daily and still care for her right up to now.

Puntung being prepared for her dental operation Wednesday morning. – Photo Sabah Wildlife Department
Puntung as seen on April 5. – Photo Sabah Wildlife Department
Puntung eats well daily for a Rhino which just had major surgery in her mouth to have three rotten teeth extracted. – Photo Sabah Wildlife Department

“We thank the many people, both in Malaysia and overseas, who heartened us with their good wishes in April and financial support for the dental surgery and follow-up work,” he added.

“We would like to thank to Sime Darby Foundation, which not only covered the costs of monitoring, capture, translocation and care of Puntung since 2009, but whose council members and officers have maintained a constant personal interest in her welfare and progress.”