KOTA KINABALU - The Sumatran rhino is extinct in the wild in Malaysia, and only three rhinos are alive in Sabah. But one of them is now dying of incurable skin cancer.
Puntung, a 25-year-old female, underwent dental surgery last month to try and treat what was thought to be a severe tooth infection. It had suffered from an abscess that would not heal since mid-March, reported the Malay Mail Online.
However, Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga told The Star: "It turns out that that the swelling on Puntung's left cheek that alerted us to the infected tooth root had a more serious origin."
The swelling progressed after the rhino's surgery, with two subsequent biopsies showing that it had squamous cell carcinoma - a type of skin cancer.
Mr T uuga said Puntung now cannot breathe through its left nostril.
"She can also no longer vocalise. She is in pain and her condition is declining fast."
Specialists from several countries all said that the cancer would kill the animal regardless of treatment, according to the New Straits Times.
Therefore, Mr Tuuga said the department has authorised the rhino's euthanisation.
"This was a very difficult decision to make, but the specialists agree that on balance, this is the best out of a very small number of unpleasant choices."
The euthanasia will take place on June 15.
Dr John Payne, executive director of Borneo Rhino Alliance, said: "This is devastating news for all of those who have been involved in Puntung's life over the past 10 years, from those in SOS Rhino who monitored her in the wild in the Tabin forests since 2007, to those who captured her in 2011, to those who cared for her daily and still care for her right up to now."
The Borneo Post reported him saying: "We are... making preparations to try to recover eggs or oocytes from Puntung. With that, she may yet be able to contribute to the survival of her species."
Fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos are alive in the wild, according to the International Rhino Foundation.