Rhino horns may be the key to saving endangered species from a life-threatening disease: iron overload disorder.

With the number of species dwindling, if zookeepers were alerted to the condition simply by sampling the amount of iron in rhino horns, they might be able to intervene in time to save black and Sumatran rhinos. who suffer from it.

The Cincinnati Zoo was unable to save Suci in 2014. She is believed to have died of iron overload disorder. His mother suffers the same fate.

The idea of ​​the Cincinnati Zoo

Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) director Terri Roth thinks excess iron in a rhino’s horn could be an early indicator of excess iron in the liver. She collects small samples of horns and livers from deceased rhinos from zoos and museums around the world.

Cincinnati Zoo Partners with Cincinnati Museum Center to Uncover Secrets Found in Rhino’s DNA

Because the horns are often not labeled with species and sex information, it’s the job of Cincinnati Zoo researcher Elizabeth Donelan to figure that out.

Donelan grinds horn samples into powder and extracts DNA. In partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center, curator of zoology Heather Farrington uses this genetic material to create a comprehensive DNA profile of each animal.

“Then I get all the data that Heather sent me, and I look at my computer and play a very advanced match game,” Donelan explains.

Each batch of samples takes a week or more, and there are dozens to go through.

The zoo can’t really validate its theory until the horn information is compared to an animal’s liver.

Roth says the zoo measures more than 14 minerals in the horns and finds arsenic and lead. Mineral imbalances can cause health problems in a wide variety of animals.

The Cincinnati Zoo no longer has any Sumatran rhinos. The last exposed in North America, Harapan, left for Indonesia in 2015, as reported by WVXU.