Tuberculosis in Rhinoceros: Is this an under recognised threat?

Cape Town | TB research experts at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and Stellenbosch University are calling for a greater focus on understanding the possible risk that tuberculosis presents to free ranging and captive wildlife species such as the rhinoceros. 

Their paper, published in the academic journal:  Transboundary and Emerging Diseases, reviews cases of TB in the rhinoceros both from a historical and more current context. It says that although TB has not been shown to be an immediate threat to free-ranging rhinoceros populations, the potential impact is currently unknown and is cause for concern.

“These species are under a severe conservation threat due to poaching and habitat loss,” says Stellenbosch University Professor Michelle Miller. “With decreasing numbers of animals, any additional losses, even due to sporadic disease is a concern for survival of the species.  Many of the remaining wild rhinoceros live in areas that have endemic bovine tuberculosis, as well as being in countries with a high human TB burden.”

The researchers add that parks such as the Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa and iMfolozi-Hluhluwe Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal have large numbers of both white and black rhinoceros which share range and resources with TB infected buffalo populations. This poses a problem as it is well known that the buffalo are important hosts for the disease.

She says that very little is known about the impact that even isolated cases of TB in rhinoceros would have on the genetic diversity and conservation programs for these species.  Therefore, there should be a greater focus on understanding the possible risk that TB presents.

Since TB is a controlled disease, regulatory agencies can impose movement restrictions which would affect potential reintroduction and programs designed to move rhinoceros to more secure locations and maintain genetic diversity.

Release date: 
Monday, September 12, 2016 - 08:28
Keletso Ratsela
Contact: Keletso Ratsela

Media Strategist
Tel: +27 71 214 5272