The unexpected death of what was hitherto rated as a healthy fertile nine-year-old female casts further doubt on the future of this species generally regarded as living on the edge of extinction as its numbers continue to plummet.
"The loss of Suci is a devastating blow especially to a captive breeding programme dedicated to secure the future of this critically endangered species for future generations," said Dr Terri Roth, Director of Cincinnati Zoo's Linder Centre for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife and Vice President of Conservation.
Dr Terri is widely credited as the brain behind for the Zoo's success in siring the baby rhinos, Andalas (born Sept 13, 2001), Suci (born July 30, 2004), Harapan (born Dec 19, 2008) - all offspring of Emi (mother) and Ipuh before Andalas returned to Indonesia in 2009 and sired Andatu (born June 23, 2012, Way Kambas, Sumatra) - hailed as a feat of the century 112 years after the first recorded captive Sumatran rhino birth recorded in 1889 at the Calcutta Zoo.
For Sabah, it has dashed hope of a recent State Cabinet decision to send Tam, its only captive male rhino to Cincinnati Zoo to mate with Suci by June, if the new female rhino Iman captured on March 10 in Danum Valley, proved infertile.
Suci died Sunday (US time) from hemochromatosis otherwise known as iron storage disease which similarly killed her mother Emi five years ago in 2009, as iron overload tends to affect rhinos in captivity.
Although a necropsy was performed Monday, Dr Terri said it will be weeks before the Zoo has the final results.
"Cincinnati Zoo has lost one of its most beloved and charismatic animals," Dr Terri mourned. "Suci was a symbol of hope for her entire species, one that is quickly losing ground in the wild, and her absence will leave a great hole in our hearts," Terri grieved.
"The international community has a great challenge on its hands.
If we don't act quickly, and boldly, the loss of this magnificent animal will be among the great tragedies on our time.
"The best way we can remember her and honour her is to work even harder to save this incredible species," Terri said.
"If we let them disappear, the responsibility will rest heavily on all of our shoulders," Terri added.
The latest IUCN estimate puts the world population of Sumatran rhinos at no more than 100 individuals and out of this tiny world population, probably 80 per cent of the females in the wild are cyst-infested and incapable of natural breeding, Widodo Ramono, considered the father of Sumatran rhino in Indonesia, asserted at the International Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit in Singapore in April 2013, underscoring the widespread concern that the species has arrived at the brink of extinction.
Meanwhile, Director of Sabah Wildlife Department, Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu, described the death of Suci as "a sad, sad news."
"I am lost for words, I don't know whether we can send Tam in any way now," Dr Laurentius said.
"What we have now are two females and a male in captivity and we want to engage both the German and American experts to help us, work concurrently in Sabah and put our heads together for the sake of the species," said Dr Laurentius.
"Even in the death of Suci, there is a lesson in the diet and we need to compare notes with Cincinnati Zoo why she and her mother died of the same disease - hemochromatosis. This is an experience where Cincinnati can help us on diet planning for captive rhinos," Dr Laurentius noted.