Rhinoceros Survives Poachers

This is from last Friday’s i and shines a light on current conservation efforts in Africa:

Staggering around when you’re woozy with sedatives must be particularly testing when you weigh two tonnes, like Hope. She is a five-yea-old rhinoceros in south Africa who has spent a year being treated by vets after going through a horrific ordeal – and it’s likely to take another 18 months to nurse her back to full health.

Last year, Hope was darted by poachers who then hacked off her horns and part of her face. Since then, the mutilated rhino has had at least 16 medical procedures requiring anaesthetics – testifying to her resilience and the tenacity of her human carers, who are learning about the threatened species as they go along.

“We don’t even know what antibiotics to give it, we don’t know what painkillers to give it, at what doseage,” said Dr Johan Marais, an equine and wildlife surgeon at the University of Pretoria who works together with Dr Gerhard Steenkamp. “!We don’t know the anatomy of the legs. We don’t even know the anatomy of the face, where we work.”

Wildlife veterinarians say there is an urgent need for anatomical research on rhinos, which have been heavily poached for their horns, because an increasing number survive attacks and need treatment for injuries such as gunshot wounds or deep cuts from axes or machetes. similarities between horses and rhinos serve as a rough guide for drug regimens for rhinos, according to Dr Marais.

The facial reconstruction of Hope, whose gaping wound left her sinus cavities exposed, is a see-saw of progress and setbacks. The rhino has suffered maggot infestations, had wire stitches and steel screws drilled into her skull and has torn off protective coverings by rubbing her face against the sides of her pen. Still, the wound has closed by about 60% and vets estimate Hope will require care for at least another year and a half.

For easier access, the conservation group treating the rhino, Saving the Survivors, moved her this year from eastern South Africa to a wildlife-holding facility in Bela-Bela, north of Johannesburg, home to most of the world’s rhinos, is struggling to curb the slaughter of the species, whose horns are coveted in parts of Asia, particularly in Vietnam. Some consumers believe the horns have medicinal benefits…

Last week, vets fixed medical elastic bands across the sedated rhino’s wound, a new treatment using equipment provided by a Canadian company, Southmedic. the bands are designed for human patients who have received abdominal surgery and act like shoelaces, stretching skin on both sides closer together.

A cloth covering Hope’s eyes, and cotton wool stuffed in her hair-fringed ears blocked out movement and noise that might have jolted her from slumber. …

At one point, workers got the rhino on her feet and steadied her great bulk as she swayed. A rhino can suffer potentially fatal ,muscle damage if it lies or sits too long in one position because its tremendous weight reduces blood flow. Hope’s veterinary team says she clearly deserves treatment as long as there is a chance of recovery and, eventually, giving birth.

Remarkably, there are signs that Hope’s upper, smaller horn is growing back, albeit at a lopsided angle – it might have to be removed if there is a risk of infection or some other complication.

“There are many nights that I lie awake and I worry and I wonder, ‘what shell we do next?’ It’s probably the animal that has challenged me the most in the last 20 years of my life,” said Dr Marais. But he added: “It’s a good feeling.”

This is all great, but what is being done to stop the demand for rhino horn? The same goes for elephant ivory – apparently the Chinese believe that it is elephant teeth that causes no harm to the animals. As for the use in medicine, is anyone looking into educating people of the harm it is causing? Or looking for alternatives? Surely this would be cheaper and a lot easier than trying to control the huge business of wild animal poaching in Africa.

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