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Cornell Linkages Provide Critical Vaccine for Rhino's Safe Relocation

Andalas with EmiThe International Rhino Foundation and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center have teamed up to initiate a new program to help save rhinos with a focus on health and sustainable practices. The Rhino Conservation Medicine Program (RCMP) is based at Cornell University creating innumerable opportunities for unique collaborative health investigations and support from some of the best animal health specialists in the world. A critical and timely example of the importance of this Cornell linkage is the upcoming relocation of Andalas from America to Indonesia - the first of its kind for this species! A significant health risk is known to exist in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in the rainforests of Way Kambas where Andalas will arrive this year. In fact, the risk in the form of tick-borne disease found in these areas has been a major limiting factor in endangered species reintroduction efforts including the black rhinoceros and bongo antelope as well as livestock relocation for agricultural practices in tropical regions. From recent disease investigation of domestic and captive wild animals surrounding the park and from studies of the rhinos within the sanctuary, we know that the tick-borne infections are significant endemic diseases of the region. Like the African rhinoceros, the Sumatran rhinos that live in these areas remain infected without developing disease - in effect, the local rhinos have "adapted" to these infections. Andalas, however, being captive born and spending his entire existence within an American zoo environment has never been exposed to these diseases. Animals raised elsewhere and abruptly relocated into such endemic regions could suffer rapid illness and death. We are therefore faced with the question of how to prevent illness in Andalas while he builds a protective immune response against the blood parasites found in this area.

Dr. Bevilaqua Felippe and Black Rhino Dr. Julia Bevilaqua Felippe is a Cornell University immunologist and assistant professor of Equine Medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences. A native of Brazil, Dr. Bevilaqua Felippe has trained in her native country and in the United States, and is considered a leader in her studies of the immune system of the horse and foal. It has been the developing collaboration and eager support of Dr. Bevilaqua Felippe that has inspired a carefully designed plan to protect Andalas once his epic journey back to Indonesia is complete - scientists working on three continents are combining their expertise all to help ensure the safe relocation of a rare rhinoceros! Dr. Bevilaqua Felippe has contacted her colleague in Brazil, Dr. Rosangela Machado, who is among the world's first to develop safe and effective vaccines for two of these blood parasites. Our Brazilian colleagues are eager to share their knowledge, skills and even their cherished vaccine to help Andalas make a safe transition back to his homeland.

The process has already begun with a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) permit to import this rare vaccine into the United States (Piroplasmosis or Babesiosis is considered an exotic disease in North America and therefore special permission must be granted to import the vaccine). The vaccine was recently imported to Dr. Bevilaqua Felippe's laboratory at Cornell University, where the vaccine for Andalas was prepared. Next, the vaccine was delivered to the Los Angeles Zoo where immunization began in December of 2006 in preparation for his move back to Indonesia in February of 2007. Additionally, our Brazilian colleagues will assist with assays to determine the effectiveness of this novel vaccine in a rhinoceros - information that will prove critical for any future rhino repatriation efforts that may follow.

(Submitted by Robin W. Radcliffe, DVM, DACZM Rhino Conservation Medicine Program, IRF, FRWC, CUCVM)