Malaysia’s rhinos: The long goodbye

Malaysia’s rhinos: The long goodbye

Malaysia’s rhinos: The long goodbye

Tam’s is a story reminiscent of that of 45-year-old Sudan, once the world’s last surviving male northern white rhinoceros. Named after the country of his birth, Sudan was put to sleep in March 2018 at his home at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Sudan’s death and the photos of his final goodbye with his tearful keepers pulled at the world’s heartstrings and, for a moment at least, he became the gentle, wrinkly and horned face of the terrible toll poaching is taking on the world’s fast-shrinking wildlife.

In our little corner of Southeast Asia, in the dark, tropical jungles of Sabah, Malaysia’s own tragic tale is playing out. Just last month, we bade farewell to Tam the rhino. Seeing such a magnificent creature take his last breath cut to the quick, but hurt even more to know that old Tam, brought to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah in 2009, was Malaysia’s sole remaining male Sumatran rhino.

Tam’s death leaves grand dame Iman the last of her kind on Malaysian soil. The line ends there. All hope of breeding Tam with Iman or two other females, the late Puntung and Gelegup, dissipated when the three females were unable to breed.

The two-horned Sumatran rhino – the smallest in the Rhinocerotidae family, aka the rhinoceroses – is “critically endangered” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Once found roaming the forests and swamps of China, India, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, there are less than 80 animals left in the species, clinging to life in the wilds of Indonesia.

Former range    Current range

In Malaysia, it’s game over. Despite the best efforts of authorities and conservationists, the Sumatran rhino – both the Western and Eastern subspecies – has been extinct in the wild here since 2015. So, how did Malaysian get it so wrong with these odd-toed ungulates?

Losing a species

Decades of poaching and habitat loss from logging, development, human encroachment and farming have all steadily eaten away at the rhino population. It’s no surprise that habitat loss has taken its toll – between 2000 and 2012, Malaysia reportedly had the world’s highest deforestation rate, at 14.4%.

Meanwhile, the foolish use of rhino horns in traditional medicine has fuelled the illegal trade that has contributed to driving the animals to extinction. Poaching is believed largely responsible for the massive dip of 70% of the world’s Sumatran rhinos population in just 20 years.

Now, with so few animals left and the population so scattered, National Geographic deemed isolation the “single biggest threat” to the species. Cows, as female rhinos are known, give birth about every three to four years, but that period could stretch considerably longer as their numbers dwindle. Females, as suspected in Iman’s case, develop cysts and fibroids in their reproductive tracts if they go too long without mating, further complicating matters (it’s called the Allee Effect).

With no luck in breeding Tam, Malaysia attempted to bet on assisted reproductive technology (ART) to enable exchange of reproductive cells with captive Sumatran rhinos in Indonesia. However, WWF-Malaysia in a statement, said despite high-level diplomatic engagement in 2015, “ART efforts have yet to take place.”

Tam the rhino. Photo by: Raymond Alfred/WWF-Malaysia

The final battle

With Iman all that’s left of the species in Malaysia, all conservation efforts are now trained on neighbouring Indonesia. A collaborative effort, the Sumatran Rhino Rescue, is underway to capture the few wild Sumatran rhinoceroses that remain, to afford them greater protection and for breeding.

This is the end game and authorities and conservationists in both countries know there’s no snapping of fingers to make things right. Every step is crucial. Pahu, a female caught in Borneo was even afforded a police escort to her new home and bulldozers to clear the way.

WWF-Malaysia, meanwhile, says ART is still possible and wants Malaysia to enhance diplomatic efforts with Indonesia. Both countries seem to be taking heed; they plan to pen a memorandum of understanding on the Conservation of the Sumatran Rhinoceros, and will discuss the possible application of ART.


  • Smallest of the rhino family.
  • More closely related to the long-extinct woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis), it’s also the hairiest.
  • One of three Asian rhino species.
  • Mostly solitary, found in dense tropical forests.
  • Can live between 35 – 40 years, weigh up to 950kgs, and grow to 5 feet high and 9 feet long.
  • Females give birth every 3 – 4 years.


  • Critically endangered.
  • Victim to habitat loss and poachers (rhino horns are still used in traditional Asian medicine).
  • Less than 80 estimated left in the wild in Indonesia.

What can we do?

We average Malaysians can do more than applaud heads of state and cheer rescue missions from the sidelines. Poachers won’t kill what they can’t sell, so it’s crucial to stop the purchase of products using exotic and, more importantly, endangered animal parts.

Also volunteering with or donating to organisations such as the Borneo Rhino Alliance, WWF-Malaysia, and Sumatra Rhino Rescue also make a dent in helping stave off the extinction of the Sumatran rhino population.

Filmmaker and National Geographic photographer Ami Vitale, who covered Sudan’s dramatic transport from a zoo in icy Czech Republic to the sun-drenched plains of Kenya, and the creature’s death nine years later, wrote: “My hope is that Sudan’s legacy serves as a catalyst to awaken humanity to this reality.”

“But if there is meaning in Sudan’s passing, it’s that all hope is not lost.

“This can be our wake-up call. In a world of more than 7 billion people, we must see ourselves as part of the landscape. Our fate is linked to the fate of animals.”

If Sudan’s death opened our eyes, what will Tam’s legacy be?

This piece was originally published on Between The Lines, a weekday newsletter that curates the most important news stories of the day and explains the context behind them. Subscribe for free here.

A fishing adventure in the remote jungles of Kalimantan

A fishing adventure in the remote jungles of Kalimantan

The Plan

Whenever anyone mentions Borneo or Kalimantan, the first thing which comes into our minds is the mystical 140 million year old rainforest which covers the largest island in Asia, the animals which call it home and the tribes which dwell in it. But unknown to many the island is also a freshwater fishing haven with its many rivers and streams which hold an abundance of target fish such as Masheer and Hapala Barb or also known locally as Kelah and Sebarau. This very reason led six of us putting together a fishing trip to Kalimantan Indonesia in the search of these target fish. Plans were put into place several months in advance with six anglers who were Fahiz, Yan, TK, Goubin, Kasey and me Sandeep to travel to Indonesia which led us to contact local fishing outfit East Borneo Sports Fishing (EBSF) to book our trip through them.

Just three weeks before our trip, we were informed by EBSF that they had recently discovered a new spot in the jungles of Kalimantan which was very remote and off the beaten path. The location which was an estimated 17 hour drive from Balik Papan, Indonesia had only been visited once by the exploration team of EBSF, hence it was a gamble as the place was very deep in the jungle, had very fast flowing water akin to rapids, malaria carrying mosquitos, and unpredictable weather. However the six of us decided to take up the gamble and it was set, we were going for an adventure of a lifetime!

The Adventure

Our journey began in KLIA were we took a flight to Jakarta and spent the night in the airport to catch our flight the following morning to Balik Papan in east Kalimantan. Upon our arrival in Balik Papan, we were greeted by Suke who is a fishing guide with EBSF who took us for a quick Indonesian lunch of Nasi Padang before hitting the road. From Balik Papan we took a 9 hour drive to a small kampong where we rested for the night at the home of one of our guides.

The following morning after breakfast, we were on the road again for the most challenging part of the trip, which was an 8 hour journey by 4-weel drive along a logging and jungle track. After a bone jarring drive we finally reached the river which would be our fishing location for the next three days, and after loading up into the boat we took a 20 minute boat ride through the rapids to our base camp which was a hunting lodge built by the locals. After a nice bath at the side of the river and a simple dinner we setup our fishing tackle in preparation for the next day.

It Begins!

The tackle which we had prepared for the trip was more to the heavy side with us using reels with at least 13lb of drag which had been spooled with 30lb-50lb braided fishing line as well as rods which were on the heavier side with poundage ranging from 10-20lb, right up to 20-40lb. The lures which we had prepared for the trip were mostly shallow diving cranks and minnows which had been upgraded with stronger treble hooks and split-rings to prevent loosing fish due to them failing.

The next morning after a quick breakfast consisting of dried shrimp fried rice which was whipped up by our helpful guide Suke, we loaded up into our three boats which held a pair of us each to begin our journey upstream. The river that we were fishing in was a very fast flowing, hence we traveled three hours upstream before we switched off the outboard engine and started drifting down. We immediately started casting at the banks, under hangs and potential spots which might hold the fish that we were targeting. As it had rained the night before, the water was somewhat murky hence we know that the fishing was going to be challenging.

Fish ON!

Yan and I casted repeatedly at potential spots towards the bank with me using IMA’S Ligid minnow and DUO’s Realis M65 crank while Yan used RAPALA’S Fat Rap and DUO’s Realis M65 crank to try to lure the fish to hit our lures. After almost two hours of casting, Yan got a hit from a fish and after a quick battle he landed himself a decent sized Hampala. After a few quick pictures he released the fish back into the river and we were back at it again casting our lures at any potential spot that we could see, however the next hour held no fish for us, so we decided to take a break for lunch with the rest of the guys.

After lunch we were back at it again. While we were casting along some low over hang, Yan got a strike again and this time he landed himself a nice 4lb Masheer which had whacked his M65 crank. Once again after a few quick pictures, Yan lowered the fish into the water and ensured that the fish was revived before releasing it back into its habitat. By now it was already reaching the end of the day and I had yet to land a fish, I had switched my lures several times to much avail.

While casting at a particularly low over hang, suddenly I felt a sharp jerk on my rod, and I was ON! I was determined to not allow the fish to get away and after a quick fight I emerged the winner. The fish that had taken my DUO M65 was a Hampala which is one of my favorite target fish when I go fishing. Yan took some quick pictures as it was already getting dark and then I released the fish back into the river after which we both called it a day and returned to camp.

After a refreshing bath by the riverside, we tucked into a delicious dinner which consisted of grilled Masheer, fried rice and sup, while sharing about our day’s fishing. The rest of the guys had found the fishing pretty tough as well due to the murky water but everyone had managed to land at least a fish each. We were all exhausted from the long day and slowly we all crawled into our sleeping bags for some much needed sleep and with dreams of better catches the next day.

The following day we were greeted with by a welcoming sight, the river had somewhat cleared throughout the night and was much less murky. This lifted our spirits and after breakfast we began our day. I had paired up with Kasey for our second day and like the previous day, we travelled upstream for several hours and soon we began casting. Soon after we began casting I my rod jerked in my hand and I had landed myself a 3lb Hampala which had taken my IMA Ligid moments after I had casted it out. After the normal ritual of picture taking, the fish was safely released back into the water. Soon after I got another strike and this time it was an approximate 6lb Masheer which had taken my lure, I was overjoyed as this was the first time I had landed a Masheer and it was a decent size too.

Moments later Kasey landed a nice 4lb Hampala and Masheer in quick succession which put a big smile on his face. This fishing was definitely better on the second day and both of us landed approximately 9-10 fish each which all released after taking some pictures. Later that evening when we met up at our camp, we found out that Yan had landed a 13lb Hampala, which was a personal record for him and that both TK and Fahiz had landed big Masheer in the range of 8-10lb’s. The good water conditions had certainly boosted our catch rate and all of us were in high spirits after the day of fishing.

That night however it began raining very heavily and we all knew that this was going to lead to the river getting really muddy and murky which was the exactly what happened the next morning. The river had turned brown from all the mud and silt which and been washed into it and once again we knew that it was going to be a challenging day ahead. I had paired up with Goubin for the last day of fishing and although the water conditions were bad, I managed to land a 4lb Masheer  which whacked my IMA Ligid near a small stream. After a few hours, we decided to call it quits as the water conditions were too murky and we all decided to return to camp.

All good things come to an end

Since we were back early to camp, we decided to pack away our tackle and prepare for the long journey back the next day. Although the fishing had been slow on the last day, we all knew that at the end of the day, Mother Nature always wins and that at least we had a good day’s fishing the previous day. That night we all slept pretty late talking about our trip and fun that we had. The following morning, we loaded up into the boats one final time to head back to our 4 wheel drives and began the 17 hour journey back to Balik Papan before boarding our flight to Jakarta and finally KLIA.

The trip without doubt was well organized by EBSF and they ensured that our trip went along as smoothly as possible. Most of us were covered with mosquito bites by the end of the trip but luckily none of us contracted malaria or any other dangerous disease during the trip. Its sudden trips like this into remote areas which are the most fun as one will never really know what to expect, but given the chance I would definitely head back again there soon!


Email: [email protected]

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Dinosaurs walk the earth again at the Jurassic Research Centre

Dinosaurs walk the earth again at the Jurassic Research Centre


It is more than an ordinary exhibition. This is serious stuff – it is the Jurassic Research Centre (JRC) at Komtar, Penang, where dinosaurs are free to roam again.

Within its own natural habitat in the Jurassic Park, every single dinosaur that you see here comes alive.

Be warned! You may find yourself face-to-face with a fearsome T-rex or ravenous little raptors.

I was of course sceptical when ‘Professor’ Harith Iskandar gave a brief introduction about the do’s and don’ts of JRC on video. After all, this whole place was meant for children.

This is why we nearly gave it the skip when we were planning the holiday trip to Penang. I thought this was just another one of those dinosaur exhibitions we have visited either at the National Science Centre or at Avenue K in the past, now making its appearance at Komtar.

These exhibitions never made a lasting impact on me. We are too familiar with the usually life-size dinosaurs that are displayed in museum settings that we would not want to visit it again.

But after walking through the JRC, I came out feeling that this was as real as it could appear, as if it is a real research centre where scientists are experimenting with the biggest creatures that once roamed this Earth.

Here is where the adrenaline starts pumping into your blood stream, when you see the scientists at JRC ‘incubating’ dinosaur eggs with little dinosaurs starting to emerge through the cracks.

One of the laboratory staff was in fact holding the baby dinosaur but did my eyes play tricks on me? A baby dinosaur that would eventually outgrow us in size? Yes, a baby dinosaur! Behind the lady was a full-grown dinosaur being measured its weight and size.

All this transported my imagination into a totally new dimension where dinosaurs came alive. This is what a museum or exhibition would not be able to impart to its visitors, compared to this JRC at Komtar.

What appeared more realistic to me were the dinosaurs that were located outside Komtar building amid their natural habitat.

The sauropod with the long neck, otherwise known as the Brachiosaurus altithorax, was just too real to be true. The brachiosaurus is known to be the largest known dinosaur on earth and because of its long neck, it reminds me of giraffes.

I never knew that the triceratops (looking like the rhinoceros) are also herbivores; with their horn, they look fierce enough to attack any other dinosaurs, but interestingly, these triceratops could be easily hunted down by the fearsome carnotaurus whose bites are more powerful than its two small arms.

In fact, I could not tell the difference between the tyrannosaurus rex and the carnotaurus, but my son, who has been a fan of the dinosaurs from young told me that T-rex is slightly smaller in size. See video clip.

It shows one thing – the JRC has very high educational values for young children, teaching them to know how to identify the dinosaurs based on their characteristics.

I am truly impressed that I have to say this is the place that anyone visiting Penang, young and old alike, should not miss out.

The Jurassic Research Centre is located within Komtar building Georgetown

Ostracised, yet young animal lover risks all to rescue animals

Ostracised, yet young animal lover risks all to rescue animals

Ostracised, yet young animal lover risks all to rescue animals

Annabelle Lee | 29 March 2017

Norashikin Ahmad, 24, has been rescuing dogs and cats ever since 2014 when she got her first job. She houses 120 cats and 50 dogs in a purpose-built shelter next to her home in Alor Gajah, Malacca.

On top of running the shelter, she works full-time, helps out with her mother’s food business and has to travel to the mosque in the next village to pray as she is not welcome at the one right outside her house.

We first meet Shikin (as she is commonly known) at the Alor Gajah morning market where she works at her mother’s food stall on Sundays.

After the market, we follow her to a small village off the main road. There are several buildings on her property but none that look, or smell, like an animal shelter.

Shiro, a tiny scrappy-looking shih tzu, straggles out to greet us.

Shikin throws Shiro a rubber ball as she points to a maroon-coloured building in front of us, “that’s my shelter!

At the entrance of the shelter is a brown three-legged dog who hops timidly behind Shikin as we come close.

Once inside, cats climb on top of each other playfully to clamour for Shikin’s attention. The smooth cement floor is carpeted with cats in all colours, sizes and resting positions. It is hard to know where to step! In the midst of all the meowing we hear a bark. A mother and her four puppies jump up to get a glimpse of us. Their tails wag from their enclosure behind the cat carpet.

Shikin has repeatedly renovated this shelter to enlarge it. She has built another single-storey structure and is currently adding a drain and cement floor to a third. All to house her ever-growing number of rescued animals.

Besides renovation work and pet food (which costs RM3,000 a month), Shikin says its veterinary bills that cost the most.

Shikin takes several animals to the veterinarian every single day. She rarely has enough to pay the bill and as a result, she has racked up more than RM10,000 in debt.

“I never have enough money but the doctor allows delayed payments and lets me post a picture of the bill to my Facebook group to appeal for donations,” Shikin says.

Members of her Facebook group, Shikin Team Animal Rescue (STAR), regularly donate. She breathes a sigh of relief as she tells us about an anonymous donor who donated RM8,000 towards her veterinary bills just last week.

“I prefer large donations to go straight into the veterinary clinic’s account so people don’t accuse me of using the money for myself. The doctor takes a photograph of the bank statement for me to post on Facebook,” explains Shikin.

Kicked out of the house by her mother

A white house stands next to the shelter. It was built by her mother to be rented out as source of income but “no one wanted to rent it once they knew we had dogs on the property,” says Shikin.

It is culturally taboo for Malays to keep dogs as pets because dogs are considered unclean (or haram) in Islam.

In addition to selling food and drinks at the morning market where we met Shikin, her mother supplies nasi lemak to food stalls in Malacca during the week.

“People started boycotting her food when they found out we were keeping dogs,” says Shikin.

Her mother even stopped praying at the surau right outside their house because villagers kept insinuating to religious teachers that her family was committing a religious offence by keeping dogs on their property.

The pressure became too much for Shikin’s mother to bear and as a result she kicked Shikin, her youngest daughter, out of the house.

“She told me take my dogs and cats with me to live somewhere else.”

Only after Shikin’s older sister interfered did she change her mind.

Shikin now rents the white house from her mother to house disabled cats.

As we enter the house, Shikin calls her cats by name and they respond by brushing their bodies against her legs.

Many are crippled and blind from being run over by vehicles. One such cat could not scratch himself because he had lost his hind leg. This other cat had alimentary tract problems and could only consume liquid food, on top of being crippled. One cat developed nervous problems after she was forced by her owner to breed multiple times in a year. Another shivers uncontrollably due to Parkinson’s disease.

Cats in here thus need special care. Shikin prepares them their individual servings of food and medicine every day. She also takes a number of them to the veterinarian for weekly acupuncture appointments.

Shikin explains her daily routine.

She wakes up at 4am every morning to help pack nasi lemak for her mother. After a short nap, she gets ready for work and feeds all her 120 cats and 50 dogs. She packs any sick animals into her car before driving 40 minutes to her full-time job as a medical equipment technician at a rehabilitation centre.

“I start work at 8.30am but I am always rushing, I am always late,” says Shikin.

On the way to work she often stops for stray cats and dogs.

“It is never my plan to rescue animals but sometimes I take a shortcut to work and there he or she will be. Maybe it was meant to happen. If I don’t stop I won’t be able to sleep at night,” she says.

During her lunch break, Shikin brings her sick animals, along with any strays she has picked up, to a veterinary clinic near her workplace.

She then returns to the clinic after work to collect her animals. Over the years the veterinarians, all whom have become her good friends, have taught her to perform simple procedures like cleaning out maggot wounds or inserting subcutaneous needles. The clinic is often busy until closing time and the veterinarians willingly stay after hours to attend to her animals.

She is exhausted by the time she gets home at 10pm, but still she has to feed her animals their medicine before she is done for the day.

Nevertheless, she is proud that many sick animals, like her disabled cats, have shown progress under her care. Most can now enjoy their food, walk about, and socialise with other cats.

“Just last week, some of the cats got too fat and broke the window panes they were resting on. I had to build them book racks to sleep on instead!” says Shikin while laughing.

Problems with the neighbours

We walk up the hill where we meet her dogs.

Shikin has little wooden dog houses dotted around her property that house individual dogs. She started rescuing dogs when she visited the Alor Gajah pound and saw how dogs were left with no water or food. Now, her work colleagues and even students at a nearby university inform her when they encounter injured stray dogs.

Dogs start emerging from dog houses and they bark excitedly at us. Like her cats, she knows them all by name.

People in her village have in the past accused her dogs of eating their chickens and goats.

“I asked them to show me proof. I asked them to show me photographs and tell me which one of my dogs did it. They could not show anything but still they went ahead to report me to the local authorities,” laments Shikin.

When the local authorities came to her property, she set all her dogs and cats free from their cages and enclosures to prove they would not run away to her neighbours’ houses. She wanted to show that the allegations against her rescues were baseless.

She also asked for proof when her neighbours complained about her cats breaking their flower pots.

“Even my dogs can’t break flower pots, their complaints are so illogical,” she says impatiently.

Like her mother, Shikin has stopped visiting the nearby surau. She travels to the mosque in the next village to pray.

Next, a world-standard animal shelter

At the end of the hill is a fenced enclosure where we meet 35 excited puppies. Yapping and yelping, they compete to squeeze under the doorway fence. Shikin is currently constructing an additional area for the puppies. Complete with a drain and cemented floors, it will give the puppies an even larger compound to run about in.

Her dream is to have an open-air shelter where dogs and cats are free to roam.

“I want to build it on a large piece of empty land and just like the shelters overseas, it will have areas for animals to play, rest and bathe. Animals will neither be in cages nor be leashed up. It will have staff and be very systematic. That is my dream,” says Shikin.

What inspired you to rescue animals in the first place? We ask.

This breaks Shikin’s determined gaze, she starts to cry.

“My inspiration, the only person who really understands me, is dad,” she struggles to continue.

As a child, Shikin spent almost all her time with her father. They could not afford to have animals at home so he would drive her to his friends’ homes just so she could play with their animals. Her earliest memory, she says, is of her dad saving a drowning puppy from a drain.

“He loved animals so much. He would stop his car in the middle of the road to move a monkey that had been run-over to the side,” she tells us.

Her father died of lung and heart problems five years ago, Shikin remembers the exact date and all the details of his stay at the hospital but most of all she remembers his words to her.

“He taught me that all animals are God’s creations. Dogs or cats, there is no limit to what and how we can help.”

Shikin welcomes donations, volunteer groups and adoption requests. She can be contacted at [email protected] or through private message on her Facebook page.

Malaysians Can Pursue “Real” Pokémons at Four Shopping Malls!

Malaysians Can Pursue “Real” Pokémons at Four Shopping Malls!





Since the early August launch of Pokémon Go in Malaysia, the game has taken the nation by storm, and thousands are thronging the malls daily to capture virtual Pokémons.

From 13 August 2016, four shopping malls will invite Pokémon Go aficionados to pursue some unique targets in air-conditioned comfort. And the best part? These Pokémons are based on adoptable pets right here in Malaysia. Why settle for virtual catches when you can seek loyal, furry lifetime companions who will return your love in kind?

This initiative is the brainchild of Naga DDB, one of Malaysia’s largest advertising agencies, in conjunction with, the country’s premier pet adoption portal. They have #TheRealCatch for you—11,000 homeless animals eagerly awaiting your love.

Join in this pursuit of “the Real Pokémon Catch” at Publika, Berjaya Times Square, Sunway Pyramid and 1 Utama. The adventure will continue through at least 27 August, and perhaps a bit longer if the hunters are still in hot pursuit.

This campaign leverages on the Pokémon Go buzz to highlight the plight of needy animals. Pet Pokémon posters are placed at strategic locations and Poké Stops, encouraging pet adoption and sterilization of animals.

Andy Koh, founder of, notes,

“We are very thankful to the compassionate management of these four malls for their enthusiasm for this campaign, inspiring so many visitors to help homeless animals. We hope that this fun-filled initiative will set a precedent for more creative animal welfare collaborations in the future.”

Mobile promotional posters have also surfaced at various pet-friendly parks and popular streets, to the enthusiastic response of the public.

Chase after a real Pokémon instead!

To learn more, please visit: