Tam, the last remaining male Sumatran rhino in Malaysian captivity, died from organ failure on Sunday

By Matt McNulty
May 28, 2019 01:32 PM

The last male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia died on Sunday, leaving just one female of the rare species left in captivity.

The rhino, named Tam, had been suffering from kidney and liver disease prior to his death, according to The Borneo Rhino Alliance. The nonprofit organization confirmed the animal’s death on Facebook.

“It is with heavy hearts that we share the tragic news that Tam, Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino, has passed away,” the post reads. “We will share more details in due time, but right now we need some time to mourn his passing.”

Tam had been living at the Cabin Wildlife Reserve in the Malaysian state of Sabah since 2008 and was in his thirties at the time of his death. His caretakers said the rare species of rhinos have a lifespan of about 35-40 years.

Sumatran rhinos are the smallest rhinoceros species in the world, standing at an average of 4 feet 3 inches when fully grown. The remaining rhinos not kept in captivity live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, with a small group of them inhabiting nearby Borneo.

Christina Liew, Sabah’s environment minister, released a statement regarding Tam’s failing health and eventual death with the Borneo Rhino Alliance saying the small rhino had been “quite the gentleman” despite his failing health and maintained a “calm and steady manner.”

“Everything that could possibly have been done was done, and executed with great love and dedication,” Liew said of Tam’s final days. “His last weeks involved the most intense palliative care humanly possible.”

With Tam’s death, only one Sumatran rhino remains in Malaysian captivity, an infertile female named Iman. According to National Geographic, less than 80 Sumatran rhinos now live outside of human captivity, and the subspecies has been considered functionally extinct for years — meaning there are not enough of the animals left to sufficiently repopulate the species to save it from extinction.

Over the years, the subspecies has faced widespread poaching as well as habitat loss, which has contributed to driving the Sumatran rhino to the brink of extinction.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the Sumatran rhino is actually more closely related to the extinct woolly rhino than any other species of rhino living today.

Of the five living species of rhinos left, four are considered vulnerable or critically endangered, the WWF reports. The last male northern white rhino died last year in Kenya due to a severe leg infection.

Conservationists are promoting the use of in vitro fertilization in a controversial effort to save the northern white rhino from extinction.