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Last Updated: Monday, 17 November, 2003, 18:03 GMT
Malaysian centre's last rhino dies
Minah, Sumatran rhino (Pic: The International Rhino Foundation)
Minah was one of the recent deaths at the centre

Efforts to save a rare South East Asian rhinoceros have suffered a severe setback after the entire population of a captive breeding centre in Malaysia was wiped out by illness.

The last of seven Sumatran Rhinoceroses died at the centre on Monday, and there are only around 300 of the animals left in the wild.

The Sumatran rhinoceros, the smallest of the five types of rhino, is one of the world's rarest large mammals and the small wild population - largely in Malaysia and Indonesia - is threatened by poachers and loss of habitat.

The Rhino Conservation Centre at Sungai Dusun in Malaysia was one of only a handful of captive breeding programmes in the world.

Safety in numbers

All seven rhinoceroses kept at Sungai Dusun have died since the beginning of last year - five of them in the last three weeks.

Scientists are not certain what killed them but suspect a pneumonia-like bacterial infection.

The International Rhino Foundation which leads rhino conservation projects around the world said small groups of animals living in close proximity to each other are vulnerable to disease.

Sumatran Rhino - Dicerorhinus sumatrensis
In 2001, there were about 300 Sumatran rhinos
They live in dense tropical forest, mainly in the Malay Peninsula on Sumatra
They weight 1,300 - 2,000 lbs (600 - 950kg)
They stand at 6.5-9.5 ft (2-2.3 metres)
From International Rhino Foundation
"Random events such as the deaths at Sungai Dusun are always a risk for small populations whether in the wild or in captivity," Thomas Foose, the group's programme director, said.

The centre has denied suggestions that the animals were kept in unhygienic conditions or that its veterinary staff lacked the necessary skills to care for them.

Mohamad Khan, head of the Malaysian Rhino Foundation which runs the centre, said the deaths of the animals had been hard for those who worked with them.

"They became inactive, then they started having difficulty in breathing, after that they slowly lay down and it became difficult for them to get up," Mr Khan said.

"Some of them were with us for 16 years and we loved them very much."

The centre should now be closed down, according to Mr Khan. "Animals taken there would be going to their deaths," he said.

He added that the programme should continue on a new, disease-free site.

Asian rhinos face new threat
14 Aug 02  |  Science/Nature

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