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SOS Rhino : Research, Projects and Grants : Grants 2000 : Black Rhino Immune Function


“Comparative Immune Function Between Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)"



Dr. Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf  


North Carolina State University
College of Veterinary Medicine
Raleigh, NC


Captive black rhinoceros, unlike their free-ranging counterparts or captive white rhinoceros, develop unusual diseases, which include hemolytic anemia, mucocutaneous ulcerative syndrome and fungal pneumonia, that adversely impact the ability to propagate this endangered species.18

The clinical presentation of these disorders suggest impaired immune function, but little data exists on evaluating immune function in rhinoceros to substantiate that captive black rhinos are immunocompromised compared to captive white rhinos. This collaborative proposal will evaluate immune parameters for innate and cell-mediated immunity.

In addition, mRNA expression of cytokines, proteins which orchestrate immune function, will be studied. Innate immunity refers to defense mechanisms not dependent on antigen specific recognition and for this study will include phagocytosis, respiratory burst, and neutrophil killing.

Cell-mediated immunity will be evaluated by mitogen and antigen-specific lymphoproliferative assays. Consensus sequence primers for mammalian cytokines will be tested in rhinos using reverse transcriptase quantitative competitive polymerase chain reaction (RT-qc PCR). Cytokines to be evaluated include interleukin (IL-) 2, IL-12, and gamma-interferon (g-IFN) which regulate cell-mediated immune function, and IL-6 and IL-10 which modulate humoral immune function.

Blood samples from 10 black and 10 white rhinos will be collected at institutions that have conditioned their animals to stand for blood collection without chemical immobilization. As stress and chronic iron overload 15,16,28 have been postulated as possible predisposing conditions, serum will be collected for cortisol levels, iron and total iron binding capacity, and feces sampled for corticosterone levels to determine if these values correlate with measured immune function parameters.


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