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

DENVER–(BUSINESS WIRE)–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

“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