It took 23 months, 26 treatments and 400 screws to save a rhino
Two cows have been freed after painstaking rehab at a Limpopo centre, where they inspired a pioneering medical procedure
Five years after they survived a brutal chainsaw attack by poachers, two white rhino have been released back into the wild for the first time following groundbreaking treatment.
The Limpopo-based Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) released the cows, Lion’s Den and her daughter Dingle Dell, at an undisclosed location on Monday.
They were brought to the centre in September 2013 after a poaching attack on a neighbouring reserve. The attack had left the two severely maimed and barely alive.
HESC founder member and executive director Lente Roode said: “The two beauties that ran off into an undisclosed location ... were a far cry from the pitiful animals that came to HESC five years ago.
“Their horns had been cut off with a chainsaw while they were grazing in the reserve. A bull died on the scene and the two cows were left with gaping holes and their sinus cavities exposed where their horns had previously defined their iconic appearance.”
The cows – both named by the HESC – received extensive treatment from a team of wildlife veterinary surgeons.
“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 on that fateful day.
“It is incomprehensible that humans can stoop so low for financial gain,” said Roode.
The release of the fully rehabilitated rhinos is in line with the conservation ethos of the HESC, where the aim is to release animals back into the wild, whether born in captivity or rehabilitated after trauma.
By releasing the animals, their chance of procreation is greater, since there were no suitable sexually mature bulls at the centre.
The treatment of the injured Lion’s Den and 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 the wounds.
Initial treatment entailed cleaning the wounds and closing the cavities with a fibreglass cast that covered the entire nasal area. But the casts irritated the animals, and were removed.
When the healing process had progressed sufficiently skin grafts were harvested and placed in the wounds – a procedure that had never before been performed on rhinos.
“Despite the pioneering work of our specialist veterinarian team, the road to recovery was slow. The healing process caused the wounds to itch and our rhinos to rub off their casts. Flies and maggots infested the wounds, resulting in repeated infection.
“A metal plate placed over the cast and fixed in place with pop rivets and screws proved a solution to the problem,” said Roode.
The two animals were completely dehorned in 2016 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.”
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.
“Poaching of rhinos for their horns is escalating worldwide and in South Africa the massacre of these iconic animals remains a constant threat and has reached epidemic levels. No reserve is guaranteed a safe haven,” said Roode.