Low sperm counts and other reproductive problems are preventing pregnancy among Malaysia's endangered rhinos, a worrying trend that wildlife experts say could hasten the animals' extinction.
KUALA LUMPUR -- Low sperm counts and other reproductive problems are preventing pregnancy among Malaysia's endangered rhinos, a worrying trend that wildlife experts say could hasten the animals' extinction.
Experts meeting on Borneo island this week to discuss ways to save the Borneo rhino said a major threat -- besides poaching -- was the animals' own inability to reproduce.
"Maybe because they live in fragmented locations deep in the jungles and because of that, they rarely get the opportunity to mate," the New Straits Times newspaper on Thursday quoted Sabah Wildlife Department deputy chief, Laurentius Ambu, as saying.
But scientists also found that male rhinos suffer from low sperm count while many of their female counterparts have cysts in their reproductive organs.
"It's a mystery," he said. "We are curious to learn more."
The authorities' attempts to encourage captive breeding had failed, Ambu said. "We will try our best to allow the rhinos to breed naturally," he added.
The wildlife department says there are between 30 and 50 rhinos left in the dense jungles of Malaysia's Sabah state, on Borneo. The animals are so secretive that the first photograph of one was only taken last year.
In April, global conservation group WWF said it had caught the animal on video for the first time. The two-minute video, recorded by a camera hidden in the jungle, captured the behaviour of the elusive two-horned Borneo rhino in the wild.
Scientists consider the Borneo rhino to be a subspecies of the Sumatran rhino, with different characteristics from those found in Indonesia and the Malaysian peninsula.
The Sumatran rhino is one of the world's most critically endangered species, with small numbers found only in Indonesia, Sabah and peninsular Malaysia.
It is the smallest and hairiest of all the rhinos, but can weigh from 600 to 800 kg (1,320 to 1,760 lb). Its numbers are believed to have halved in the decade to 1995, with fewer than 300 left today.
Rhino horns, made of hair-like keratin fibres, have reputed aphrodisiac qualities and are a prized ingredient of traditional Asian medicine.