Advancing the health and well-being of animals and people

Fellow: Kurnia Khairani

Co-Mentor: Julia Felippe
Co-Mentor: Robin Radcliffe
Contact Information: Email:; Phone: 607-253-3100
Sponsor: Morris Animal Foundation
Grant Number: D12ZO-411
Title: Hemorrhagic Septicemia Surveillance in Buffalo as an Aid to Range Expansion of the Javan Rhinoceros
Annual Direct Cost: $46,296
Project Period: 01/01/2012-12/31/2013

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): The Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is critically endangered (IUCN Redlist and CITES Appendix I) and with just 35 to 50 animals left in the wild it is perhaps the most threatened large mammal on earth today. Although a few Javan rhinoceros reside in Vietnam’s Cat Tien National Park, the species survives primarily in Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP) on the Island of Java, Indonesia where the future of the species rests. With the UKNP population stagnant and even showing evidence of decline, a core National Strategy was recently endorsed by the Indonesian government – the primary goal of the Indonesia Rhino Conservation Action Plan is to create a second population of Javan rhinoceros. A proposed range expansion into the Honje Mountains on the Eastern side of UKNP is the first step in meeting that goal. Although the Honje Mountain region provides essential habitat for the Javan rhino, it is also encumbered by its location with 19 villages nearly completely encircling the site. Local people living adjacent to the park rely entirely on agriculture and utilize water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) to work the rice paddies. The buffalo are managed loosely without fencing and therefore regularly infiltrate the park boundary.

Invasion of water buffalo into the park poses a significant health risk to the Javan rhinoceros that reside inside UKNP and importantly threatens future plans for habitat expansion and establishment of a second viable population. Three major die-offs of Javan rhinoceros have been reported in recent times. Perhaps the most significant occurred in 1982 when five rhinos were found dead (AAP-Reuters, 1982). Subsequent investigation revealed Hemorrhagic Septicemia, a disease prevalent in the region’s domestic water buffalo, to be the cause of the outbreak. Periodic die-offs continue in UKNP with the loss of at least two more rhinos in 2002-2003 and three more animals in May of 2010 with disease a key suspect.
In an effort to better understand the disease risks to the UKNP Javan rhino population, in 2009 we conducted a preliminary survey of important domestic animal diseases of concern to rhinoceros. We found the buffalo to be carriers for several hemoparasites, Salmonellosis, Leptospirosis, and Paramphistomiasis. Due to limitations in our methodology, the pilot survey failed to detect Hemorrhagic Septicemia (HS), an important endemic disease of the region’s water buffalo. HS poses a significant risk to the Javan rhinoceros population because it is an acute disease caused by pathogenic strains of Pasteurella multocida and was implicated in the five rhino deaths in Ujung Kulon National Park in 1982. At the time of the rhino mortality, HS was also linked to outbreaks of disease in the water buffalo population around Honje Mountain. Therefore, the disease history for both the buffalo and rhinoceros indicates that further study of HS in the water buffalo population is warranted.

Our global hypothesis is that HS is endemic in the water buffalo surrounding UKNP and the poorly understood epidemiology of the disease threatens future range expansion for the highly endangered Javan rhinoceros. Specific objectives will be to determine the prevalence, distribution and risk analysis of HS in the buffalo population. The prevalence of HS will be measured using clinical positive cases with the support of bacterial isolation and serologic methods in a subset of animals. Risk factors for HS will be assessed using a Case-Control design together with questionnaire-based interviews of buffalo owners. Results of the field survey and laboratory diagnoses will be analyzed together with the HS risk factors to determine possible methods of intervention and control. As a part of the surveillance program we will educate public health officers and villagers on HS diagnosis and management through hands-on training.

The results of this study will improve the health of the water buffalo that surround and regularly invade the boundaries of UKNP, a UNESCO world heritage site that is home to the most important population of Javan rhinoceros in the world. The information gained will have many potential beneficiaries. It will help local veterinary health officers improve the health of domestic buffalo, a resource that is the foundation of the region’s economic vitality. Improving buffalo health will simultaneously enhance the health and well-being of local villagers and reduce their impact on the park. Importantly, Conservation scientists will be better able to relocate rhinoceros into a secure second habitat with improved knowledge of animal health and thereby reduce the risk of disease transmission from livestock to rhinoceros. All of the above will be essential in order to secure the range expansion and eventually establishment of a second habitat for the rare Javan rhinoceros, a crown jewel of Indonesia’s amazing biodiversity.