Even Zoo Animals Are Being Killed by Too Much Iron

Over the past decade around half the rare black rhinos in American zoos have died prematurely of chronic anaemia. Affected animals suffer from low blood cell counts, weakness and apathy and often pass blood in their urine shortly before they die. In humans, anaemia is caused by low levels of iron. But in rhinos, paradoxically, it may be caused by high iron levels, which catalyse the formation of oxygen free radicals that damage red blood cells. Researchers have found that black rhino blood cells contain 50 times as much of the amino acid tyrosine as human red blood cells. Tyrosine mops up oxygen free radicals, suggesting that it protects the rhinos against excess iron.

However, it appears that captive rhinos fed an alternative diet such as grasses may be getting more iron than they are used to as well as less of the tyrosine that counteracts its effects. Excess iron in the human body can cause devastating effects as well, and I encourage you to read my article on how to diagnose iron overload for more information on this important topic.

New Scientist July 28, 2004

Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology May 2004;138(1):105-9

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