Update on White Rhino veterinary investigation
Thursday 17th May 2012

Over the past eight weeks an extensive and complex veterinary investigation has been undertaken into the cause of death of four White Rhinos at Taronga Western Plains Zoo.

The Zoo’s veterinary team have worked tirelessly during this time, leading the investigation and consulting with Rhinoceros specialists in Africa and North America, specialist government virologists, government vet services as well as pathology laboratories and specialists.

As part of these enquiries a specialist Working Group was established, bringing together the Zoo’s own experts with the State’s most experienced veterinarians and pathologists including the Department of Primary Industries Chief Veterinary Officer to assist with the exhaustive investigation.

An array of tests for bacterial, environmental and viral causes including a virology culture, were conducted and while a great many potential causes of the illness were ruled out, the results were still inconclusive.

The surviving female White Rhino who had been showing symptoms has improved and is now doing well following intense monitoring and supportive medications.  The prognosis for this female is now good.  The two male White Rhinos have shown no symptoms and are still healthy. No other animals at the Zoo have experienced this illness.

Senior Veterinarian at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Benn Bryant said “With all the results in hand, the Working Group agreed that while the testing was not able to pinpoint the cause, they are confident that the remaining White Rhinos pose no health risk and that quarantine restrictions could be eased.”

“The Working Group is confident that every possible avenue has been explored and that the full resources available to the Zoo and the Department of Primary Industries have been utilised,” said Benn.

“It’s not unusual in biomedical investigations that a cause for an illness cannot be categorically confirmed. However, we have the ability to re-open the investigation at anytime if new information comes to hand and to provide tissue samples for further testing.”

“Staff have been coming to terms with the losses whilst focusing their attention on caring for the remaining animals.  It is likely that the White Rhinos will return to their exhibit in a couple of months following some scheduled maintenance on this exhibit,” said Benn.

The Director of the Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Cameron Kerr said: “I’m confident that every possible avenue has been investigated by the Zoo’s veterinary team working in conjunction with the NSW Government Working Group and utilising State-wide and international resources and expertise.”

“We will ensure that all aspects of the investigation including the extensive test results are reported and published to add to the global knowledge of this species, and we’ll continue building upon that body of knowledge for the future.”