Iron storage disease (ISD) is now recognized as a serious clinical disorder acquired by two species of browsing rhinoceroses, the African black (Diceros bicornis) and the Asian Sumatran (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) rhinoceroses, when displaced from their natural habitats. The most complete knowledge of ISD comes from studies of the black rhinoceros, but the Asian species is also at risk. Sumatran rhinoceroses housed in traditional zoological settings outside of range countries have suffered significant morbidity and mortality potentially related to ISD induced by diet and/or other confinement conditions. With so few animals in captivity, very little information exists on iron loading in the Sumatran rhinoceros. To better characterize the problem, we retrospectively compared captive management conditions of Sumatran rhinoceroses housed under traditional zoological care with those in two native sanctuary environments. In general, zoo rhinoceroses are offered a paucity of plants and browse species compared with their sanctuary and wild counterparts managed in native rainforest habitats. Iron analyte levels and limited histopathologic observations in these populations suggest variable tendencies to overload iron, dependent upon differences in managed diet and individual food preferences. More detailed investigation of these markedly dissimilar ex situ populations is warranted to better understand the role of nutrition and other conditions affecting iron loading in browser rhinoceroses.
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