Chance for sur­vival after mu­ti­la­tion by poach­ers

The Mercury - - METRO - LISA ISAACS [email protected]

THE Hoed­spruit En­dan­gered Species Cen­tre (HESC) in Lim­popo re­leased two white rhi­nos into the wild five years after a bru­tal poach­ing at­tack on a neigh­bour­ing re­serve left them maimed and barely alive.

The con­di­tion of the an­i­mals that ran off into an undis­closed lo­ca­tion on Mon­day was a far cry from that in which they ar­rived in 2013. Their horns had been cut off with a chain­saw while they were graz­ing in the re­serve. The bull died on the scene and the two cows were left with gap­ing holes in their si­nus cav­i­ties.

Named Lion’s Den and Din­gle Dell by the cen­tre, the cows have had ex­ten­sive treat­ment by a team of wildlife vet­eri­nary sur­geons.

The cen­tre’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and founder Lente Roode said: “I will never for­get the sight of these poor an­i­mals when they ar­rived at HESC. No crea­ture should have to en­dure what these two cows went through.

“While we do our ut­most to re­ha­bil­i­tate poach­ing vic­tims, ev­ery in­ci­dent strength­ens our re­solve to help erad­i­cate this scourge.”

The treat­ment of Lion’s Den and her calf Din­gle Dell not only saved the an­i­mals’ lives, but re­sulted in a pi­o­neer­ing pro­ce­dure be­ing de­vel­oped that would serve as the blue­print for rhino re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in the fu­ture.

For ev­ery treat­ment, the an­i­mals were darted and se­dated, the wounds cleaned, blood sam­ples taken to check for in­fec­tion, blood pres­sure and tem­per­a­ture mea­sured, an­tibi­otic oint­ment and dress­ing ap­plied and a pro­tec­tive cast drilled into place over their wounds.

Ini­tial treat­ment en­tailed clean­ing the wounds and clos­ing the cav­i­ties with a fi­bre­glass cast that cov­ered the en­tire nasal area. How­ever, be­cause the casts were a source of ir­ri­ta­tion to the an­i­mals, they were rubbed off.

In sub­se­quent treat­ments, a sonar ma­chine was used to lo­cate and re­move dead tis­sue, canals spooled and pens drilled into the bone as a sup­port­ive base for an acrylic fix­ture to close the si­nus cav­i­ties.

After heal­ing suf­fi­ciently, skin grafts were har­vested and placed in the wounds – a pro­ce­dure that had never be­fore been per­formed on rhi­nos.

Be­cause the heal­ing process caused the wounds to itch and the rhi­nos to rub off their casts, flies and mag­gots in­fested the wounds, re­sult­ing in re­peated in­fec­tion.

A me­tal plate placed over the casts and fixed in place with pop riv­ets and screws proved a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem.

In Au­gust 2016, Lion’s Den and Din­gle Dell were de­horned to pro­tect them from fur­ther poach­ing.

It had taken al­most 23 months, 26 treat­ments and close on 400 screws for Lion’s Den to reach this point.

Din­gle Dell re­cov­ered with fewer treat­ments.

By re­leas­ing the an­i­mals, their chance of pro­cre­at­ing is now greater, as there were not suit­able sex­u­ally ma­ture bulls at Hoed­spruit En­dan­gered Species Cen­tre.

Roode said the big­gest chal­lenge in terms of re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing rhi­nos, be­sides the costly treat­ments, was the fi­nan­cial bur­den of pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity to pre­vent fur­ther poach­ing atroc­i­ties.

LION’S Den and Din­gle Dell have started a healthy chap­ter, hav­ing been re­leased after their re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

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