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Stem cells give hope for revival of Malaysia’s extinct rhinos
KUANTAN, Malaysia – Some skin, eggs and tissue samples are all that remain of Malaysia’s last rhino, Iman, who died last November after years of failed breeding attempts.
Now scientists are pinning their hopes on experimental stem cell technology to bring back the Malaysian variant of the Sumatran rhinoceros, making use of cells from Iman and two other dead rhinos.
“I’m very confident,” molecular biologist Muhammad Lokman Md Isa told Reuters in his laboratory at the International Islamic University of Malaysia.
“If everything is functioning, works well and everybody supports us, it’s not impossible.”
The smallest among the world’s rhinos, the Sumatran species was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015. Once it had roamed across Asia, but hunting and forest clearance reduced its numbers to just 80 in neighboring Indonesia.
Iman, 25, died in a nature reserve on Borneo island, following massive blood loss caused by uterine tumors, within six months of the death of Malaysia’s last male rhino, Tam.
Efforts to get the two to breed had not worked.
“He was the equivalent of a 70-year-old man, so of course you don’t expect the sperm to be all that good,” said John Payne of the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), who has campaigned for about four decades to save Malaysia’s rhinos.
“It was obvious that to increase the chances of success, one should get sperm and eggs from the rhinos in Indonesia. But right till today, Indonesia is still not keen on this.”
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