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SOS Rhino : Research, Projects and Grants : Grants 2000 : Black Rhino Nutrition : Iron and copper absorption...


"Dietary Iron Absorption and the Role of Tannins in Eastern (Diceros bicornis michaeli) and Southern Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis minor), a Comparison"



Dr. Sue Crissey Dr. Tom Meehan
Ann Ward  


Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield, IL

Fort Worth Zoo
Forth Worth, TX


This project relates directly to the research priorities of the Rhino TAG since nutrition is a factor identified as a likely contributor to poor health and high mortality in black rhinoceros.

Rhinoceros accumulate body stores of iron over their lifetime that may be associated with numerous maladies. Eastern black rhinoceros have a history of disease and death characterized by hemolytic anemia and mucocutaneous ulceration (superficial necrolytic dermatopathy).

One eastern and 6 southern black rhinoceros in the south central US recently sufferedfrom idiopathic hemorrhagic vasculopathy. Many nutrients listed as possible causes in the rhinoceros syndromes may be linked in some way to each other and to infection, immunity, and cellular fragility or permeability.

Causes that may involve iron include: ferric iron antagonist vitamin E, interactions between absorption of dietary iron and vitamin E, and linkages between copper and iron absorption/functioning.

Iron and copper are added to pelleted diets fed to rhinoceros. In the absence of species specific data, levels are based on work performed with domestic livestock. Natural browse of black rhinoceros contains secondary plant compounds including tannins that may decrease mineral absorption. Commercial hays contain tannins, but at lower levels.

It is possible that these chemicals may bind excess dietary iron in the natural diet. This study complements recent work and uses it as a basis to follow-through with a more in-depth study of dietary iron.

This project's broad goal is to guide the development of a diet to reduce the risk of iron overload in black rhinoceros. We will evaluate nutritional status, iron/copper status in rhinoceros, iron/copper balance and the role of dietary tannins in iron/copper absorption.

The specific aims are to determine if
1) low, controlled dietary iron levels and then
2) low, controlled dietary iron plus dietary tannins affect iron/copper status.


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