Breakthrough operation on shot rhino a success

2015-08-25 10:10
Dr Mike Toft cleans iThemba’s wound before stitching on a new elephant hide cover.

Dr Mike Toft cleans iThemba’s wound before stitching on a new elephant hide cover. (Kifaru wildlife Veterinary Services)

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WITH the bullet that almost killed a pregnant white rhino cow extracted and on its way for forensic investigation, she is showing “excellent” signs of healing.

iThemba and her five-year-old calf were shot, dehorned and left to die three weeks ago by poachers at the Mahalela Private Game Park in Zululand.

iThemba’s bull calf was found dead, and iThemba was found a day later, barely alive with her front horn missing and a gunshot wound to the head that had partially paralysed her left front foot.

Zululand wildlife vet Dr Mike Toft and Saving the Survivors vet Dr Johan Marais teamed up two weeks ago in a groundbreaking operation to use elephant hide from a local taxidermist to cover iThemba’s gaping wound.

Unable to use the standard fibreglass cap usually used on poached rhinos as much of the bone underneath had been taken with the horn, the two vets came up with the innovative technique of using elephant hide to cover the wound.

On Saturday, Toft, along with other specialists from the Kifaru Wildlife Veterinary Services, started the next step of iThemba’s treatment.

Toft said they successfully immobilised iThemba to “replace her elegant elephant hide nasal covering after she had removed it herself last Friday”.

“It gave us an opportunity to examine the original gunshot wound that was discharging heavily.

“During the course of cleaning and flushing the gunshot wound I was able to retrieve the bullet and will be submitting it for further forensic investigation,” said Toft.

He said they removed numerous bone chips from the gunshot wound that he said was evidence of how close the bullet had come to killing iThemba. The bone chips were from the lower neck vertebrae that had been clipped by the bullet.

“The anaesthetic was one-and-a-half hours long, slightly shorter than the initial two-hour operation on the first day. She handled the anaesthesia like a star, thanks to the expert monitoring of my wildlife assistant, Cosmos,” he said.

He said he was pleased to have discovered the wound was showing early signs of healing and had healthy scar tissue forming.

“iThemba recovered almost immediately after the reversal medication was given and was seen trotting off happily back to her shaded spot in the boma,” said Toft.

Mahalela shareholder Mark Dedekind said blood was taken from iThemba on Saturday and would be tested to see how her pregnancy was progressing.

He said the park hoped the trauma of the shooting and losing her bull calf would not result in her aborting the pregnancy.
Read more on:    rhino
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