February 27, 2007

C.U. Vet Aids Rare Rhino

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On Feb. 18, Andalas, a Sumatran rhinoceros born in captivity, was transported from the Los Angeles Zoo to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary located in Indonesia. He is the first Sumatran rhinoceros to be born in captivity in over 100 years, and has also become the first Sumatran rhino to be transported from the United States to Indonesia.

Unfortunately, Sumatran rhinos are one of the most endangered mammal species in the world, with only 300 remaining. Perhaps this is why Andalas has been a celebrity ever since his birth in the Cincinnati Zoo on Sept. 13, 2001. When Andalas arrived in Indonesia, hundreds of fans were waiting for him wearing rhino t-shirts and waving welcome banners, according to an ABC Radio Australia Interview.

Relocating a 1,700 pound rhinoceros is, by no means an easy task. Therefore, Prof. Robin Radcliffe, wildlife and conservation medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, along with Dr. Curtis Eng, the Los Angeles Zoo Chief Veterinarian and its keeper Steve Romo, needed to travel alongside Andalas. Andalas arrived from his long trip in good health.

“He is doing fine,” said Radcliffe, “He’s only a little bit tired after this long trip. Overall, he looks very good,” Radcliffe said. “He will be in quarantine for the first 60 days to enable him to adapt to his new environment. He will then be released into a rain forest of 10 hectares.”

Radcliffe is in charge of the Rhino Conservation Medicine Program that is based at Cornell and is also affiliated with the International Rhino Foundation. He is also the former director of the animal health for the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.

“Andalas’ journey to Indonesia is vital to the future of Sumatran rhino,” said Los Angeles Zoo Director John Lewis. “This breeding program is just one example of the extent zoos will go to in order to save a species from extinction.”

Andalas is expected to mate with two young female rhinos, Rosa and Ratu. These female rhinos were already at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, waiting for his arrival. However, it will be quite some time before Andalas is ready to mate, since he will be facing some serious challenges.

His biggest challenge is coping with a variety of tick-borne blood parasites, as explained by the Cornell Chronicle and Dr. Julia Flaminio, equine medicine and a Cornell immunologist. Flaminio said that because Andalas was born in captivity, he has no means of immune defenses for such parasites, since he was never exposed to them.

These tick-borne blood parasites — Anaplasma and Babesia — are also found in Brazil, Dr. Flaminio’s native country. Therefore, Flaminio had some previous knowledge and experience with these parasites.

“When relocating Andalas, Dr. Radcliffe and I knew there would be a high risk of such parasites infecting him, so I contacted a colleague of mine, Dr. Rosangela Machado in Brazil, who already tested a vaccine for these parasites used in relocating domestic livestock,” said Dr. Flaminio. “We were lucky enough to obtain a U.S. state permit from the USDA to import the vaccine to the Cornell Laboratory where we prepared the doses of vaccine, which were administered to Andalas during a six week period at the Los Angeles Zoo.”

She said that Andalas is doing well so far, but it will be a long process for him to become completely adjusted to his new environment.

In the short time Andalas has been in his new home, he has already adjusted quite well and has been very easy going and relaxed.

“We just hope that with time, Andalas’ immune system will keep building protection to all the foreign diseases he is being exposed to, but he has already been doing quite well.” Andalas’s team is hopeful that he will be able to mate in the future.”