Morris Animal Foundation and Smithsonian Global Health Program Partner to Tackle Devastating Disease Affecting Black Rhinos in Africa

Dr. Suzan Murray of Smithsonian Global Health and Dr. Mathew Mutinda of Kenya Wildlife Service with an anesthetized rhinoceros. (Photo: Business Wire)

DENVER--()--In a race against time, Morris Animal Foundation and the Smithsonian Global Health Program, part of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, have established a unique partnership to study a debilitating skin disease affecting black rhinos. With generous support to SGHP from the family of Stephen Willard, the organizations have funded a research fellowship that could help wildlife veterinarians better understand, and act on, this emerging threat to the health of one of the world’s largest land mammals.

The first Morris Animal Foundation/Smithsonian Global Health Fellowship has been awarded to Kali A. Holder, D.V.M., Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists. Her mentors at the Smithsonian Global Health Program and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute are Drs. Suzan Murray and Sabrina McGraw. Dr. Holder’s major research focus through this fellowship will be on emerging infectious diseases in wildlife, ranging from infectious threats to rhinos to potential human pathogens in bats.

“Wildlife face ever-increasing pressures from interactions with humans and domesticated animals, as well as the adverse effects of climate change,” said Barbara Wolfe, D.V.M., Ph.D., chief scientific officer for Morris Animal Foundation. “These factors lead to the emergence and spread of new pathogens to species that already are fighting for survival. In this case, we don’t know what is causing these skin diseases, but hope to find answers through this research.”

The observed skin lesions have been documented by regional wildlife professionals as large (up to 10 inches in diameter), open sores often on the legs and sides. The lesions are painful and debilitating, likely resulting in decreased foraging, reproduction and greater susceptibility to threats from humans and animal predators. The lesions could be caused by a number of disease agents, including bacteria, mycobacteria, fungi, viruses, or parasites, and may be due to more than one underlying condition.

“The emergent nature of these conditions may suggest a change in the host, the environment, or the pathogen; and may represent a disease threat previously unknown to the region,” said Dr. Murray, director of the Smithsonian Global Health Program and chief wildlife veterinarian at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “This project will help us characterize the disease in the field, as well as evaluate disease program and treatment efficacy. We hope to quickly develop a plan to treat these animals effectively, reducing their pain and suffering while increasing their chances of having long, healthy lives.”

“Emerging diseases are profoundly affecting both conservation and public health, and multidisciplinary veterinarians have a key role to play in addressing health worldwide,” said Dr. Holder. “Rhinos are some of the most endangered animals in the world, and I’m deeply grateful that Morris Animal Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution are investing in the future of global animal health.”

About Morris Animal Foundation

Morris Animal Foundation is a nonprofit organization that invests in science to advance animal health. The foundation is a global leader in funding scientific studies for companion animals, horses and wildlife. Since its founding in 1948, Morris Animal Foundation has invested more than $100 million toward 2,400 studies that have led to significant breakthroughs in diagnostics, treatments, preventions and cures to benefit animals worldwide. Learn more at Morris Animal Foundation.

About Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute plays a key role in the Smithsonian's global efforts to understand and conserve species and train future generations of conservationists. Headquartered in Front Royal, Va., SCBI facilitates and promotes research programs based at Front Royal, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide. Learn more at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.


Morris Animal Foundation
Carol Borchert, 303-708-3418

Release Summary

Morris Animal Foundation and the Smithsonian Global Health Program have established a unique partnership to study a mysterious disease affecting black rhinos, one of the world's largest land mammals.


Morris Animal Foundation
Carol Borchert, 303-708-3418