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SOS Rhino : In the News : Zoo grieves, comforts its dying rhino

Zoo grieves, comforts its dying rhino

  Miadi or "hope," suffering from renal failure, aided her species' future by delivering a rare female black rhino

The Oregonian
Friday, February 11, 2005

Miadi, the Oregon Zoo's beloved female black rhino, is dying.

The 16-year-old rhinoceros has been diagnosed with kidney failure, and zoo officials don't expect her to survive more than a few weeks.

The 11/2-ton rhino thrilled Portlanders in 1997 when she gave birth to a 60-pound daughter, Imara. The birth, the first of a black rhino in a Northwest zoo, was significant because few black rhinos born in captivity have been females.

Miadi spends much of her time indoors where keepers try to make her comfortable. "She has her good days and her bad days," said Michael Illig, a senior keeper who took care of her for a dozen years. "I go see her often, and she always remembers me and comes up to be petted and have her ears scratched."

The diagnosis was made recently after keepers noticed Miadi had been losing weight. Blood and urine tests indicated she has chronic kidney insufficiency, which has no cure, said zoo veterinarian Mitch Finnegan. A person with the condition would require a transplant or dialysis.

"There's not a lot you can do," Finnegan said. "We keep the calories coming for her, because she's losing a lot of protein." She is getting medication to reduce inflammation, which is common with the disease, and skin sores she's developed are being treated.

Renal failure is common in black rhinos in captivity, and Finnegan said studies are trying to determine why. Some researchers speculate it may be linked to a diet richer in minerals than would be found in the wild.

Miadi, which means "hope" in Swahili, arrived at the zoo in 1990 from the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago. The plan was for her to mate with Pete, the zoo's male black rhino, who arrived from the Denver Zoo in 1988.

After she arrived, Miadi was trained to allow keepers to take blood samples. They were able to track her estrous cycle, which has helped other institutions working with the species.

Her weekly tests in 1996 indicated she was pregnant, and in September 1997 she delivered her baby.

Videotape captured the breech birth, with the baby's hind feet coming out first. Miadi didn't understand what was happening. She had been resting and jumped up as if stung by an insect. After a couple of spins, the calf slipped out on to a wall and down to the floor.

The confused mom shuffled across the room and snorted a couple of times at the newcomer. After a few comforting words from Illig, Miadi began to nuzzle her daughter.

"We didn't have to help Miadi at all," Illig said at the time. "She was perfect -- built for birthin', I guess."

Imara was the only offspring the rhino pair produced and was hugely popular with zoo visitors. She was sent to the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, S.D., in 1999.

Pete, who is healthy, and Miadi were born in captivity and are among 69 black rhinos in North American zoos. The natural life span of black rhinos is 40 years. Only about 3,000 black rhinos are left in the wild, down from 65,000 in 1970.

Miadi is kept indoors during chilly and rainy weather, but likes to bask outside in the sun on warmer days. The sun was out Thursday, but she stayed inside.

"She seems to be comfortable, and they're pampering her pretty good right now," Illig said. "We've put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into those rhinos. She'll definitely be missed."

Richard L. Hill: 503-221-8238;