New Straits Times
KUALA LUMPUR - Tumours found in some of the female Sumatran rhinoceroses at the Sungai Dusun Rhino Conservation Centre in Hulu Selangor are likely the result of not being able to breed in captivity.
Of the five females at the centre, two had cancerous growths near their reproductive organs while one had uterine cysts, said animal surgeon Dr Rolfe Radcliffe, who was invited by the Wildlife and National Parks Department for consultation work at the centre.
The centre has six of the world's 14 Sumatran rhinos in captivity.
Attempts to breed the endangered species at the Sungai Dusun centre have been unsuccessful.
Radcliffe said the tumours, which grew in the cervical area of two female rhinos, were recently removed. Another female rhino also had uterine cysts removed.
"The tumours in the female rhinos at the Sungai Dusun centre are likely due to their captive situation as these growths are not present in wild animals. The likely cause is the absence of active breeding over a long time," he said at a talk on rhino conservation at Zoo Negara recently.
Sex-deprivation for the female rhinos resulted in high levels of the hormone oestrogen in their bodies, causing the growths to develop, said Radcliffe, who is a large animal surgeon at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
Scientists are still studying rhinos to understand why it is so hard for them to reproduce in captivity.
Another captive female, named Minah, was discovered with a hormone implant in her bladder which had been wrongly inserted.
Radcliffe removed the object in 2001 after it had been inside the rhino for more than a year.
"We hope that with the foreign object gone, Minah's oestrus cycle will return to normal and breeding attempts will be successful," he said.
Minah is considered the centre's best hope for reproduction as she is the youngest and healthiest of the female rhinos.
The other females had problems affecting their ability to conceive or carry a full pregnancy.
Radcliffe's brother, Dr Robin Radcliffe, who is animal health director at Fossil Rim Wildlife Centre in Texas, said captive breeding should not replace reproduction in the wild.
He was against suggestions that more rhinos should be added to the centre to improve chances of breeding.
"The bottomline is, these animals do reproduce in the wild so they should not be removed. You should instead focus on protecting them." The brothers have worked extensively on rhino conservation in South Africa.
They said solutions to saving the rhino population included fencing their habitats to create protection zones and translocating animals in high-risk areas to protected sites like national parks.
They also talked about the use of ultrasound to predict the oestrus cycle of female rhinos for mating.
Malaysia is estimated to have 150 Sumatran rhinos in the wild, with 100 in the peninsula and 50 in Sabah. There are about 300 worldwide, mainly here and in Indonesia.
Their rate of decline between 1985 and 1995 was 50 per cent. Poaching for the horn and nails and deforestation are the Sumatran rhinos' main threats.
In 2001, the world welcomed the first rhino calf born in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo, 112 years after the first captive birth of the species in Calcutta.