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Rhino deaths at Dubbo Zoo: independent inquiry needed

Media Release
Lee Rhiannon 21 Mar 2012

The tragic deaths of four of the seven white rhinos at Western Plains Zoo has prompted Greens Senator and animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon to renew her call for an independent inquiry into the Endangered Species Breeding Programs at Western Plains and Taronga Zoos.

"This is a difficult time for the Western Plains Zoo, its keepers and veterinary staff. We acknowledge the thorough work being undertaken to investigate the deaths and assess the health of the remaining three rhinos and other animals," the Greens Senator for NSW said.

"The Greens renew our call for an independent inquiry into the Endangered Species Breeding Program made in 2007, after allegations that inadequate care led to the death of Kua, a pregnant rhino, destined for Western Plains Zoo for breeding.

 "Captive breeding programs are contentious with animals exposed to a variety of health threats.

"Captivity poses its own threats to the survival of animals not experienced in the wild. For example, a 2007 published United States research paper concluded that black rhinoceroses in captivity display unusual disease syndromes not described in the wild.

 "I have visited the rhino enclosure at Western Plains Zoo. While it is bigger than those at city zoos like Taronga, it is still not ideal, especially considering rhinos' capacity for roaming.

"Any captivity that does not replicate rhinos' natural habitat increases stress and it well known that stress compromises the immune system.

"With viruses most virulent before they cause death, there could well be other animals infected at the zoo.

 "This event should be the catalyst for a thorough investigation of the Endangered Species Breeding Program.

"Questions that need addressing include whether the Zoo's captive breeding programs are the best way of preserving endangered species, considering how many endangered species are actually restored to the wild.

"Should public funding and donations be better spent on habitat protection and breeding supporting programs in sanctuaries in the natural habitat of their country of origin?" Senator Rhiannon asked.

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