IRF Rhino Conservation Medicine Update from the Field

International Donors Enable Critical Medical Care of Rare Sumatran Rhinoceros

By: Dr. Robin W. Radcliffe and Dr. Andriansyah
Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, Indonesia
December 10, 2008

The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) is fortunate to have partners from around the world who are helping with the mission of caring for some of the rarest mammals on earth, in this case the Sumatran rhinoceros. Save the Rhino International (SRI), a UK-based charity focused on raising money for rhino conservation in Africa and Asia recently helped the IRF continue its support for the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Indonesia by working with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The BBC provided funds for the rhino sanctuary that included money for rhino food (it costs a lot to feed a rhinoceros!) and medical care.

One of the items we purchased with the BBC funds is a digital microscope camera (manufactured by Olympus America Corporation) that attaches to the center’s microscope and allows capture of images and video. Previously it was impractical for the SRS staff to capture photos through the microscope and this hindered our ability to assist with medical diagnoses from afar when we were not on site. Now I am happy to report that the SRS team will be able to send photo and video documentation to us for our evaluation as needed because of this kind support made possible by the BBC and SRI.

Dr. Andri, Assistant Curator and Veterinarian at the SRS, uses the new digital microscope to evaluate a post-breeding sample from the sanctuary’s bull, Torgamba.

Dr. Andri, Assistant Curator and Veterinarian at the SRS, uses the new digital microscope to evaluate a post-breeding sample from the sanctuary’s bull, Torgamba.

The first thing we did once we set-up the digital microscope system and got it running was to look at Torgamba’s sperm sample from his most recent breeding with Ratu in November of this year. Unfortunately even the best tools can’t help find sperm if they aren’t there……..while we are not giving up on Torgamba our focus will now switch to work with Andalas as the primary breeder. Now, within a matter of minutes, critical biological samples can be analyzed by scientists a world apart through the e-mail transfer of digital photos and video.

While this technology will be important for monitoring breeding soundness, another significant benefit of the digital microscope camera will be the enhanced health care it will facilitate for the Sumatran rhinos under our care. Blood-borne diseases such as Babesia, Anaplasma and Theileria can be difficult to diagnose by microscopic exam without expert laboratory support. Now experts in animal healthcare from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine (home of the IRF’s Rhino Conservation Medicine Program) will be able to assist with remote diagnosis of disease problems in a timely manner. This will be especially important in cases of emerging disease that could potentially lead to loss of important individuals in this small and endangered population.

Dr. Andri (top) can now communicate timely information using medical digital imagery to Dr. Radcliffe (bottom with SRS rhino female, Rosa) to enable timely international medical consultation and care. Photo by Oka.

Dr. Andri (top) can now communicate timely information using medical digital imagery to Dr. Radcliffe (pictured above with SRS rhino female, Rosa) to enable timely international medical consultation and care. Photo by Oka.

Many thanks for the kind donation from the BBC. As can be seen from the above photo,  we have already put the equipment to good use.

With all best wishes from Sumatra,
Robin, Andri and the SRS Keeper Team

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