HORRIFIC VIDEO: Hope for the Rhino Who Survived Hunting Attack

Thu May 26, 2016 21:05:22

This 2-ton patient is an injured rhino woozy with sedatives. The 5-year-old female rhino named Hope, was attacked by poachers last May.

They cut off her horns and a large section of her face leaving a horrific injury that exposed flesh and bone. Since then, the mutilated rhino has had at least 16 medical procedures requiring anaesthetics, testifying to her resilience and the tenacity of caregivers learning about the threatened species as they go along.

Despite her gruesome injury, Dr. Gerhard Steenkamp says she is doing much better one year after her trauma. "We saw Hope for the first time about mid May last year and over this year the wound has decreased about 60% in size. So there's definitely been some improvement, the wound edges are getting very nice and clean, there's not a lot of bleeding, there is no dead bone tissue or maggots or anything like that. So there's definitely been a massive improvement, but we obviously still have a way to go until one day we feel that success will be when we can close that wound and she can go out and have calves again and that will be a positive outcome."

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 started closing and veterinarians estimate Hope will require care for at least another year and a half.

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.

South Africa, 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 Vietnam.

Some consumers believe the horns have medicinal benefits, but there is no supporting evidence.

Last week, veterinarians 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 in her ears blocked out any noise that might have scared her. "There were two main objectives for today, the first one to was to take an impression of her face, so that we can make a model that we can try and come up with other solutions of how we can make a cover or how big the cover must be etc. And that went ok, I think we got a nice impression there. And the second one is what Johan is doing now. We are try a new technique where we are putting virtually elastic bands across the face. It's a system that was developed for human surgery, where you had an abdominal wound it's a chronic wound it's not healing you can apply this tension chronic or constant tension over a long period of time and it will eventually bring the soft tissues together."

After the treatment, workers get Hope on her feet, although she's a little unsteady. 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.

Wildlife veterinarians say there is an urgent need for anatomical research on rhinos because an increasing number survive attacks and need treatment for injuries, including 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. Johan Marais, an equine and wildlife surgeon at the University of Pretoria. Hope's veterinary team say she will be treated for as long as is needed to get her back to the wild. "I think I'm confident that the wound will close in a year year and a half, so that we can release her back into the wild, she can associate with wild rhino, she can be put into calf and she can have her first calf and then she can have more calves. I think I'm pretty confident that we will get there it is just a matter of time, but it will probably take another year and a half, probably." says Marais.

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.

S/SH 11

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