Award Photos CVM  

Advancing the health and well-being of animals and people


Principal Investigator:  Robin Radcliffe
Co-Principal Investigators: M. Julia B. Felippe, Patrick McDonough, Daryl Nydam
Post-Doctoral Fellow: Kurnia Khairani

Department of Clinical Sciences
Contact Information:  Email: rwr32@cornell.edu; Phone: 607-253-3778
Sponsor: Wildlife Conservation & Shelter Medicine Program:  John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation
Grant Number: N/A
Title: The Impact of Hemorrhagic Septicemia of Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) on the Endangered Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus)
Annual Direct Cost: $14,150
Project Period: 05/01/2012-04/30/2013

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): Our preliminary research indicates that the health of the highly endangered Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is intricately connected with the health of water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) sharing the rhinoceroses’ habitat and the livelihoods of the people of the area – a perfect example of the “One Health” principle in Conservation Medicine. In particular, one disease – hemorrhagic septicemia caused by Pasteurella multocida – represents a significant risk to Indonesia’s efforts to expand the range of the Javan rhinoceros, the rarest large mammal in the world today. The overall goal of our project is to determine the prevalence and risk factors for hemorrhagic septicemia (HS) in Indonesian water buffalo as a critical first step in safeguarding the precarious population of the Javan rhinoceros. While accomplishing this goal, we will have the unique opportunity to train an Indonesian veterinary scientist and several Cornell veterinary students, and transfer the knowledge to local people of Indonesia in epidemiologic, clinical and laboratorial techniques needed to measure health risks threatening the Javan rhinoceros.

Currently, just 40 Javan rhinoceroses survive in a single place, the Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP) in West Java. A recently adopted plan by the Indonesian government to help rescue the Javan rhinoceros will create a second habitat that directly borders agricultural areas populated with water buffalo. The rhinoceros and their new habitat will be completely encircled by people and their domestic livestock – a risk not yet characterized, but one that could suddenly end an entire species. The Government of Indonesia recognizes the limited capacity of their scientists to fully evaluate the role of health and disease for these endangered rhinoceros prior to the planned translocations.

Precedents in the rhinoceros conservation community should serve as a warning: a small population of Sumatran rhinoceros in nearby Malaysia died suddenly after contracting trypanosomiasis from water buffalo, ending that nation’s effort to propagate the Sumatran rhinoceros in a sanctuary (Mohamad et. al., 2003; Vellayan et. al., 2003). In addition, three major die-offs of Javan rhinoceros have been reported in recent times; the most significant occurred in 1982 when five rhinos were found dead (AAP-Reuters, 1982). Subsequent investigation implicated hemorrhagic septicemia, a disease prevalent in the region’s domestic water buffalo, as the cause of the outbreak in rhinos. Periodic die-offs persist in UKNP with the loss of at least two more rhinos in 2002-2003, and three more animals in May of 2010, all of suspected endemic HS. Although HS is endemic in Indonesia, no other groups are researching the disease. 

To reach our combined goals of understanding the epidemiology of HS in buffalo to conserve the Javan rhinoceros and educating conservation medicine professionals, we will train an Indonesian veterinarian in 3 core areas: epidemiology, diagnostics and clinical/conservation medicine. Toward this end, Dr. Kurnia Oktavia Khairani was recently the recipient of a prestigious Morris Animal Foundation Training Fellowship Award. The current proposal represents an adjunct to that award in order to fund the project costs. By using hemorrhagic septicemia as the theme of the work, Dr. Radcliffe will oversee Dr. Khairani’s training program and work with co-investigators to build a conservation health project that incorporates the three core areas of training and mentoring. Dr. Khairani will be prepared not just for work on Pasteurella, but will gain experience in research methodology and veterinary medical tools needed to secure the future of Indonesia’s rich endangered fauna.

The specific aim of this investigation is to conduct a cross-sectional study to determine the prevalence and distribution of HS in the water buffalo population in the Javan rhino habitat in Ujung Kulon National Park. 

The results of this study will improve the health of the water buffalo that surround and regularly invade the boundaries of UKNP, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to the last population of Javan rhinoceros anywhere in the world. Conservation scientists will be better able to relocate rhinoceros into a secure second habitat with improved knowledge of animal health and, thereby, reduce the risk of disease transmission from livestock to rhinoceros. A talented veterinarian given the unique opportunity to train among a diverse scientific and academic environment will one day lead the effort to train others in Indonesia with continued scientific collaboration likely between Cornell faculty and veterinary student trainees, and the Government of Indonesia. One health bridges the rhino and the buffalo – Cornell is poised to lead conservation health efforts enabling a veterinary fellow and Cornell veterinary student trainees to save the rare Javan rhinoceros, the crown jewel of Indonesia’s amazing biodiversity.