Zoo determines cause of Sumatran rhino's death

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The Cincinnati Zoo has determined the caused of death of its 21-year-old Sumatran rhino, Emi.

Veterinarians and animal care staff determined through a post mortem exam that Emi died of liver failure on Sept. 5, 2009.

"Emi's liver failed due to a disease process known as hemochromatosis," said Dr. Mark Campbell, Director of Animal Health at the Cincinnati Zoo. "Hemochromatosis, or iron storage disease, is a pathological condition associated with excessive iron deposits in tissues. It has been recognized in several wild animal species in captivity including African black rhinos, as well as in man and domestic animals. We believe Emi is the first documented case of hemochromatosis mortality in a Sumatran rhino."

Of the 41 founding Sumatran rhinos in the captive breeding program, one other female that is still alive lived in captivity as long as Emi (18 years) and two males have lived longer, including Emi's mate, Ipuh (19 years) at the Cincinnati Zoo.

After spending four years at the Los Angeles Zoo, Emi lived at the Cincinnati Zoo for 14 years where she produced three calves, Andalas (2001), Suci (2004) and Harapan (2007). Frequent pregnancies with lactation may have actually helped prolong Emi's life as these physiological events pull iron from the body.

The Cincinnati Zoo is the only place in the world to successfully breed this critically endangered species in captivity. Two out of the three Sumatran rhinos living in the United States, five-year-old Suci and her father, Ipuh, reside at the Cincinnati Zoo. Harapan moved to the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee, Florida in 2008. Emi and Ipuh were both sent to the U.S. by the Indonesian government as part of a cooperative agreement developed between Indonesia and four U.S. zoos (Cincinnati, Bronx, Los Angeles and San Diego).

It is estimated that at least 60 percent of the Sumatran rhino population has been lost in the last two decades. The primary cause is conversion of rhino habitat for agriculture, even in some national parks, and poaching for its horn which some Asian cultures believe contains medicinal properties. Today, there are only 10 Sumatran rhinos living in captivity worldwide and fewer than 200 animals exist in isolated pockets of Sabah, Malaysia and the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Sumatran rhinos can live 35-40 years.

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