Spencer rhino had existing conditions

Johannesburg - Spencer the rhino, who died during a media demonstration of an anti-poaching treatment earlier in February, had abnormal heart, liver and kidney conditions, the Rhino Rescue Project said on Monday.

The wildlife vet in charge of the rhino's post-mortem, Charles van Niekerk, said these conditions contributed to the animal's death while he was anaesthetised.

"Each of these lesions on their own would not have been uncommon in a rhino of this age, however, cumulatively they would compromise the health of the rhino," he said in a statement.

"Poisoning as a cause of death has been specifically ruled out by toxicology tests done at Onderstepoort."

Spencer died after veterinarians administered a drug to wake him up after a microchip and tracking device were implanted in his horn. The demonstration of the procedure was held at the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, in Sterkfontein, Gauteng on February 9.

Van Niekerk said officials would not have be able to identify Spencer's symptoms before the procedure.

"The presence of body fat would indicate that, despite these underlying conditions, the rhino was eating well and in good condition, thus making it difficult to identify these processes on visual inspection of the animal," he said.

"Any immobilisation puts the body under stress, exacerbating underlying pathology." Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve owner Ed Hern said losing animals under anaesthesia was not uncommon.

"Whenever an animal is immobilised for whatever reason, the possibility exists that said animal might not regain consciousness," he said.

"Needless to say, this does not mean we should no longer perform medical procedures on animals, only that we be aware of the risks involved every time we do."
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