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Auckland Zoo mourns loss of two white rhino


8 September 2003

Auckland Zoo mourns loss of two white rhino

After a week of intensive care involving five veterinarians, Auckland Zoo staff are mourning the loss of two white rhino from a bacterial disease. Mazithi died on Friday and her daughter Mbili on Saturday evening. Both were relocated to Auckland Zoo in 1999 as part of a redistribution programme of 300 excess white rhino produced in South Africa annually.

Staff are devastated by the loss and have been comforting each other. Some staff worked voluntarily over the weekend to provide support to distressed workmates.

Whilst the bacteria causing their death has still to be confirmed, it is not thought to be contagious to other animals or humans. Veterinarians have ruled out salmonella and a viral infection. Diagnostic tests should reveal the cause of the infection later this week. As a precautionary measure, the zoo has quarantined the rhino enclosure.

Veterinarians suspect a soil-based bacterium, which in some circumstances such as a minor digestive upset can multiply in the animals’ intestine and release fatal toxins into their systems. Such bacteria can cause disease in most domestic animals as well as some wild animals. The organism is normally found in the digestive tract of many species of livestock and wildlife.

Zoo staff noticed the herd of five white rhino were off their feed last week. Whilst the other animals returned to normal feeding patterns and behaviour almost immediately, staff became concerned when Mzithi and Mbili appetites continued to reduce.

Faecal and blood tests to determine a possible cause of their condition indicated a possible bacterial infection and treatment with antibiotics commenced. As the two animals showed no sign of responding, Dr John Potter, an Auckland Zoo veterinarian, sought advice and assistance from specialists in large animal medicine and bacterial diseases. Treatment through antibiotics and pain relief continued to be administered but because of the nature of the animals, fluid therapy was not possible.

The white rhino population has recovered from numbering less than 100 in the 1950’s to several thousand held in Southern African game reserves and zoos around the world.


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