Iron overload disorder (IOD) can lead to organ dysfunction and may exacerbate other diseases in the critically endangered black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis). It is important to develop methods for monitoring the progression of iron storage (hemosiderosis), diagnosing the disease, and evaluating treatments in this species. Traditionally, an equine enzyme immunoassay (EIA) was used to measure rhinoceros ferritin, a serum protein correlated to iron stores. The goal of this study was to validate a rhinoceros-specific assay and investigate factors potentially associated with ferritin concentrations in black rhinoceros. A ferritin EIA developed for Sumatran rhinoceros was validated for black rhinoceros via Western blot analysis of liver ferritin and confirmed parallelism of serum samples to the EIA standard curve and used to analyze serum samples (n = 943) collected from 36 black rhinoceros (<1–33 yr) at 14 U.S. institutions. Mean (±SEM) serum ferritin concentration was 6,738 ± 518 ng/ml (range: 85–168,451 ng/ml). Concentrations differed among individuals with eastern black rhinoceros (7,444 ± 1,130 ng/ml) having a higher mean ferritin than southern black rhinoceros (6,317 ± 505 ng/ml; P < 0.05) and higher mean values in wild-born (11,110 ± 1,111 ng/ml) than captive-born individuals (3,487 ± 293 ng/ml; P < 0.05). Ferritin concentrations did not differ between young rhinoceros (<5 yr old; 2,163 ± 254 ng/ml) and adults (7,623 ± 610 ng/ml) and were not correlated with age (r = 0.143) or time in captivity (r = 0.146, wild born; r = 0.104, all animals). Ferritin concentration was not impacted by sex (female: 2,086 ± 190 ng/ml; male: 8,684 ± 717 ng/ml), date, month, or season of collection (P > 0.05). Data indicate ferritin concentrations are variable and not necessarily associated with IOD; ferritin is not recommended for diagnosing or monitoring IOD in black rhinoceros.
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