Advancing the health and well-being of animals and people

Principal Investigator: Robin Radcliffe
Co-Principal Investigator: Julia Felippe

Department of Clinical Sciences
Email:; Phone: 607-253-3778
Sponsor: DOI-US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
Grant Number: F13AP00683
Title: Managing Disease Risks and Improving Livestock Health to Secure the Future of the Endangered Javan Rhinoceros
Project Amount: $36,899
Project Period: 08/07/13-09/30/15

DESCRIPTION (Provided by Applicant): The health of the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is intricately connected with the health of water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) sharing the rhinoceroses’ habitat and the livelihoods of the people of the area. In particular, two diseases—hemorrhagic septicemia caused by Pasteurella multocida and anthrax caused by Bacillus anthracis—represent significant risks to Indonesia’s efforts to expand the range of the Javan rhinoceros. The overall goal of our project, Managing Disease Risks and Improving Livestock Health to Secure the Future of the Endangered Javan Rhinoceros, is to protect the health of Javan rhinoceroses living in Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP) through understanding disease dynamics and helping local farmers improve livestock management practices. While accomplishing this goal, we will have the unique opportunity to train an Indonesian veterinarian, government health officers, and transfer knowledge to local farmers of Indonesia to improve the health of buffalo. Healthier buffalo will create a safe environment where Javan rhinos can be protected and relocated with confidence.
Currently, just 35-50 Javan rhinoceroses survive in a single place, the Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java. A plan adopted by the Indonesian government to help rescue the Javan rhinoceros will create a second habitat that directly borders agricultural areas populated with water buffalo. People and their domestic livestock will surround rhinoceroses moved into a new habitat. The Government of Indonesia has endorsed our program, and recognizes the need to build partnerships that strengthen the knowledge of local scientists and livestock owners—steps that will ensure the health of the UKNP Javan rhinos prior to creating a second population.
Precedents in the Asian rhinoceros conservation community should serve as a warning: a small population of Sumatran rhinoceros in nearby Malaysia died suddenly after contracting trypanosomiasis from water buffalo, ending that nation’s effort to propagate the Sumatran rhinoceros in a sanctuary (Vellayan et. al., 2003; Mohamad et. al., 2004). In addition, three major die-offs of Javan rhinoceros have been reported in recent times; the most significant occurred in 1982 when five rhinos were found dead (AAP-Reuters, 1982). Subsequent investigation implicated hemorrhagic septicemia and anthrax, diseases prevalent in the region’s domestic water buffalo, as likely causes for the outbreak in rhinos. Periodic die-offs persist in UKNP with the loss of at least two more rhinos in 2002-2003, three animals in May of 2010 and a young animal in 2012, all of suspected endemic disease (TNUK, 2012). Although hemorrhagic septicemia (HS) and anthrax are widespread in Indonesia, no investigation of these diseases has been conducted in the UKNP ecosystem.
To reach our combined goals of understanding disease dynamics in buffalo to conserve the Javan rhinoceros and educating conservation medicine professionals, we will train an Indonesian veterinarian in 3 core areas: epidemiology, diagnostics and clinical/conservation medicine. Toward this end, Dr. Kurnia Oktavia Khairani was recently the recipient of a prestigious Morris Animal Foundation Training Fellowship Award. The current proposal represents an adjunct to that award that will help fund critical field research and local training efforts.
The specific objectives of this investigation are: (1) Coordinate and strengthen the health monitoring capacity of the UKNP region; (2) Conduct disease surveillance for Hemorrhagic Septicemia and Anthrax to determine the prevalence, distribution and risk factors for each disease in the water buffalo population of the UKNP region; (3) Train and build the capacity of local communities and village people as a way to communicate study findings and improve livestock management; and (4) Disseminate project findings to the Government of Indonesia, key partners, policy makers and the scientific community. From our preliminary work, we know that the management practices of buffalo owners are changeable. We will educate and train public health officials and livestock owners by offering training on improved health management of buffalo.
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 last population of Javan rhinoceros anywhere in the world. 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. A talented veterinarian given the unique opportunity to train among a diverse scientific and academic environment will one day lead the effort to train others in Indonesia. One health bridges the rhino and the buffalo—with help from the USFWS RTCF we are poised to lead health efforts that build local capacity and save the rare Javan rhinoceros, the crown jewel of Indonesia’s amazing biodiversity.