25 March 2012
By TREVOR HOCKINS
AUSTRALIA Zoo keepers are monitoring closely the animal park’s six white rhinos after the mysterious deaths of four of the animals in New South Wales.
The endangered white rhinoceroses died at Taronga Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo early last week.
The zoo is owned by Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo.
Two of Australia Zoo’s rhinos were acquired from Western Plains Zoo in 2009, and another in 2010.
Australia Zoo veterinarian Melanie Panayiotou said its rhinos remained in good health but zookeepers would continue to monitor them.
"Australia Zoo is in contact with senior veterinarians at Western Plains, and is being informed of all veterinary results," she said.
"Australia Zoo will continue to provide support during this difficult time." A Taronga Park Zoo spokesman said that it could be weeks before laboratory tests were returned and the zoo had a better idea about why the animals had died.
He said the rhinos had shown "neurologic abnormalities", including stumbling, before they died.
The zoo’s veterinarian team had been consulting with rhino specialists in Africa and North America as well as government vet services to find out what happened to the animals. Extensive tissue samples also had been taken.
The spokesman said the zoo had ruled out several causes of death including bacterial infection, toxins in the rhinos’ environment or feed, and many types of viruses.
Western Plains Zoo general manager Matt Fuller said the zoo’s staff had been overwhelmed with messages of support.
He said that as a precaution, the three remaining white rhinos, two males and a female, had been removed from display and placed in a zoo quarantine area. Staff were monitoring them.
Mr Fuller said the rhino deaths had been a huge shock.
The rhinos that died were aged seven to 16 and included Amira, the first rhino calf in Australia ever to be hand-reared after her mother became sick.
"For some answers we now have to wait for histopathology results, which may be available next week, but also virology cultures which can take several weeks to grow for identification," Mr Fuller said.
"In the meantime, I know that people will understand that our focus must be dedicated to animal care and furthering our inquiries to understand the cause of this illness."