Malaysia hopes to trap mate for rare male rhino in Borneo in bid to save species

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian authorities are trying to trap a female mate for Tam, a rare Borneo Sumatran rhino, in a last-ditch effort to produce an offspring in captivity and save his species from extinction, an official said Thursday.

Laurentius Ambu, a top wildlife official, said Tam's current mate is too old to reproduce. Tam was rescued from the jungles of Sabah state on Borneo island two years ago and is one of the handful of Borneo Sumatran rhinos believed to be alive.

"We are looking for a reproductive fertile female," said Ambu, the director of Sabah's Wildlife Department. "The female that we have is quite old now."

Hopes for saving the Borneo Sumatran from extinction were raised following the recent spotting of a rhino believed to be a female, whose image was captured by a remotely controlled camera, Ambu said.

The trap is in an area on Borneo island where the solitary rhinos, indigenous to the island, are known to roam.

Only 10 to 30 Borneo Sumatran rhinos — a subspecies of the bristly, snub-nosed Sumatran rhino — are known to remain in the wild. So it is crucial that the breeding-in-captivity program launched two years ago when Tam was rescued bears fruit.

So far this year images of only two rhinos have been captured by the remotely controlled cameras set up in the jungle, Ambu said.

The first rhino, photographed in February, is thought to be pregnant, raising hopes that the endangered animal may be breeding in the wild. The other one could be a potential mate for Tam, Ambu said.

Tam was rescued in August 2008, wandering in an oil palm plantation on the edge of Borneo's rainforest with an infected leg likely caused by a poacher trap. He has been resettled in a wildlife reserve in the state.

The critically endangered Borneo Sumatran rhinos have rapidly vanished in recent decades from some 200 about a half-century ago as logging, plantations and other development has destroyed some of their habitat. Poachers also hunt them for their horns and other body parts, which are used in traditional medicines.

Conservationists have warned the rhinos could face extinction in the next 10 years.