Study: Kenyan rhinos face new threat from drug-resistant bacteria

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A black rhino calf (L) and its mother are seen at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia national park near Nanyuki, Kenya, May 22, 2019. /REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Scientists behind a study in a recent issue of the New York-based academic journal Eco-Health discovered that bacteria samples taken from rhinos in Kenya’s Ruma National Park had developed alarming levels of antibiotic resistance.

The rhinos appear to have become unexpected casualties of the global overuse of the drugs.

Resistance to drugs is growing because people take the drugs for non-bacterial diseases; don’t finish drug courses, allowing bacteria to recover and adapt; and because many farmers overuse the medicines on livestock.

Antibiotic use and abuse in Kenya has been rampant for decades, elevating levels of drug-resistant bacteria in people, livestock and now wildlife.

The team of scientists, which included Maseno University Ph.D. student Collins Kipkorir Kebenei, used fecal samples to study resistance levels in the bacteria found in 16 black rhinos.

They isolated samples of E. coli in both rhino and human waste and studied how resistant they were to eight of the most commonly used antibiotics: ampicillin, gentamicin, tetracycline, cotrimoxazole, chloramphenicol, ceftriaxone, amoxicillin/clavulanic acid, and erythromycin.

Resistance levels in the bacteria found in rhinos and that found in humans were comparable for four of the antibiotics. The bacteria in rhinos were more resistant than that in humans for two of them.

That’s a problem because rhinos – already under major threat from poaching – are susceptible to the bacterial disease bovine tuberculosis, researchers in South Africa’s Kruger National Park have found.

This could pose yet another challenge for the conservation of the animals as antibiotic resistance could make treatment harder.

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