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Bacteria Threatens Rhinos in Kenya


FILE - A black rhino calf, left, and its mother are seen at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia National Park near Nanyuki, Kenya, May 22, 2019. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Bacteria Threatens Rhinos in Kenya
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Rhinoceros in Kenya could face a new threat: bacteria.

Scientists recently found that some rhinos have developed surprisingly high levels of resistance to antibiotic drugs.

The researchers studied rhinos in Ruma National Park, a wildlife area near Lake Victoria. They said the animals appear to have become victims of the overuse of antibiotics.

The researchers’ findings appeared in EcoHealth, an academic publication based in the United States.

Antibiotic resistance is increasing worldwide for many reasons. Sometimes, people take the drugs for non-bacterial diseases. Other times, people do not finish taking their medicine, giving bacteria time to recover and adapt. And in many cases, farmers overuse antibiotics on their cattle and other livestock.

In Kenya, antibiotic use and abuse has been common for many years. This overuse has led to growing levels of drug resistance among people, livestock and wildlife.

To study resistance levels, the team of scientists took samples from 16 black rhinoceros.

Researchers examined E. coli bacteria genes in both rhino and human waste and studied how resistant they were to eight of the most commonly used antibiotics.

Rhinos and human beings had comparable resistance levels for four of the antibiotics. Rhinos were more resistant than humans for two of them.

Antibiotic resistance is a problem because rhinos can get the bacterial disease bovine tuberculosis, according to researchers in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

Antibiotic resistance could make treatment harder.

Collins Kipkorir Kebenei was a member of the research team and a co-author of the report. “If they (rhinos) are sick, they need to be treated – and so what kind of medication can be used on these animals?” he said. Kebenei is a student at Kenya’s Maseno University.

Rhinos are already critically endangered. There are only about 29,000 alive, according to the International Rhino Foundation. Around 5% of the animals are in Kenya.

It is unclear how the rhinos are getting exposed to the bacteria. It could be through drinking at the Lambwe River, which runs through Ruma National Park and carries waste containing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Or it could be through contact with the park rangers protecting them from hunters.

Patrick Onyango, a co-author of the report, said that antibiotic resistance was a new and serious threat to rhinos.

“There are people who are hawking antibiotics in bus stations,” added David M. Onyango, another co-author of the report. Onyango teaches at Maseno University. He suggested that a lack of rules surrounding antibiotic use might be part of the problem. “There is no proper policy and regulation on their use,” he said.

I’m John Russell.

Ayenat Mersie reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

academic adj. of or related to a school or study program

adapt – v. biology – to change so that it is easier to live in a place or situation

livestock – n. farm animals (such as cows, horses, and pigs) that are kept, raised, and used by people

according adv. as stated by or in

author – n. a writer of a report or work

hawk – v. to offer (something) for sale especially by calling out or by going from one person to another

regulation – n. an official rule or law that says how something should be done

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