A male rhinoceros recently rescued on the edge of Borneo's rain forest is expected to become the first participant of a Malaysian breeding program for his critically endangered ilk, a wildlife expert said Wednesday.
The roughly 20-year-old Borneo Sumatran rhino, nicknamed "Tam," was found wandering in an oil palm plantation in August with an infected leg likely caused by a poacher trap.
Tam, whose species is known for its solitary nature, has been resettled in a wildlife reserve in Malaysia's Sabah state, the last preserve of the Borneo Sumatran rhino — a subspecies of the bristly, snub-nosed Sumatran rhino.
Authorities hope to bring at least five male and female rhinos into the reserve over the next few years so that they can mate and produce offspring, said Junaidi Payne, the senior technical adviser for the World Wildlife Fund's Malaysian Borneo chapter.
"Their numbers are so low that they might drift into extinction if no one does anything," Payne told The Associated Press.
Experts cannot confirm how many Borneo Sumatran rhinos remain in the wild, but estimates range from 10 to 30 individuals, many of them isolated from others in their species.
Borneo Sumatran rhinos have rapidly vanished in recent decades as their habitat has been lost to logging, plantations and other development. Poachers have hunted them for their horns, which are used in traditional medicines.
The rhinos in Sabah's 300,000-acre (120,000-hectare) reserve will probably be able to find each other through their scent and mate without human interference, Payne said.
"If they are not stressed out by people, the chances of success should be better," he said.
Hope for the subspecies was boosted after Malaysian government officials and WWF experts found new evidence of them in the wild in May 2005. Rhino protection units have since launched patrols to deter poaching.
Conservationists have warned the rhinos could face extinction in the next 10 years.