Rare white rhino treated for mystery illness in California

Tue Dec 30, 2014 8:31pm EST
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By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - An aging northern white rhinoceros, one of just five left in the world, appeared to be responding to treatment of an unidentified bacterial infection that has veterinarians worried for a subspecies limping toward extinction, a California zoo said on Tuesday.

Nola, age 40, was showing signs of improvement after San Diego Zoo Safari Park keepers gave her antibiotics to ward off an illness whose symptoms on Monday included a runny nose, decreased appetite and lethargy, a zoo spokeswoman said.

"She seems to be feeling better today, she has been walking around and eating," said Darla Davis, a zoo spokeswoman. "The vets think she is responding to antibiotics."

Nola, a 4,000-pound (1.8-tonne) female who came to San Diego in 1989, is considered a geriatric rhino in a subspecies whose individuals generally live 40 to 50 years in captivity, Davis said.

On Dec. 14, a 44-year-old northern white rhino named Angalifu died at the same Safari Park, where he was being treated for age-related conditions.

Angalifu's death brought the worldwide total of known remaining northern white rhinos down to five from six, with Nola in San Diego and four counterparts elsewhere, one at a zoo in Europe and three in preserves in Africa, Davis said.

"Nola had a thick drainage coming out of her nose," Davis said. "The vets swabbed the mucus, and cytology tests showed bacteria, so they began treating her with antibiotics."

The Safari Park vets also took blood for tests from the creature's tail, Davis said.   Continued...

Associate veterinarian Meredith Clancy (L) collects mucus samples from Nola, a 40-year-old northern white rhino, as keepers Kim Millspaugh and Mike Veale(R) look on during a veterinary exam at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California, December 29, 2014.  REUTERS/Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Safari Park/Handout